Here’s What to Keep and Throw Out After a Power Outage

updated May 3, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Whether you live in an area that’s prone to thunderstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or any other number of natural disasters, if the power goes out, we all have the same questions: How long can we still eat the food in the refrigerator or freezer, and what should we keep or pitch after the power comes back on?

Here’s a guide to help you both monitor and know what to do with food when there’s no electricity.

(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

Your Refrigerator

The Proper Refrigerator Temperature

You should be prepared for a power outage, including setting the refrigerator to the proper temperature and being able to monitor it even when there’s no power. It should be set to 35 to 38°F; it’s worth investing in a refrigerator thermometer so you know exactly what the temperature inside is at all times.

How Long Refrigerated Food Is Safe to Eat

If the power goes out, keep track of how long it’s out. Keep the door to the refrigerator closed as much as possible, and remember that full refrigerators stay colder longer than emptier ones.

Food stored in the refrigerator is still safe to eat if the power is out for no more than four hours.

What Happens After 4 Hours?

When these four hours are up and the power’s still out, you need to start to monitor the temperature inside the refrigerator. Once the temperature inside reaches 40°F or higher, perishable food is only good for two more hours before you should pitch it. Here’s what to keep and what to throw out:

Foods to Pitch

  • Soups, Stews, and Casseroles
  • Meat, Poultry, and Seafood: Cooked, uncooked, or any other foods like casseroles that contain these things
  • Cheese: Soft, shredded, low-fat
  • Dairy: Milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk
  • Soy and Nut Milks
  • Eggs: Cooked, uncooked, and any foods containing eggs (like quiches and custards)
  • Fruit: Cut fruit
  • Condiments: Fish sauce, oyster sauce, creamy dressings, spaghetti sauce, mayonnaise that has been over 50°F for eight hours or more
  • Breads: Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough
  • Pasta: Fresh pasta, salads
  • Sweets: Cheesecake, cream or custard pies, cream-filled pastries
  • Vegetables: Pre-washed greens, cooked vegetables, vegetable juice, garlic in oil,
  • Tofu

Foods You Can Keep

  • Cheese: Hard, processed, grated hard cheeses like Parmesan and Romano
  • Dairy: Butter, margarine
  • Fruit: Fruit juice, canned fruit, fresh whole fruits, dried fruits
  • Condiments: Nut butters, jams, jellies, ketchup, olives, pickles, mustard, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, relish, vinegar-based dressings, Worcestershire, soy sauce, hoisin sauce
  • Breads: Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, bagels
  • Breakfast: Waffles, pancakes
  • Sweets: Fruit pies
  • Vegetables: Raw
  • Herbs
(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

Your Freezer

The Proper Freezer Temperature

Just like with the refrigerator, there’s an ideal temperature for the freezer, too. Keep it at 0°F, and invest in a freezer thermometer so you can monitor its temperature.

How Long Frozen Food Is Safe to Eat

Knowing what to keep in the freezer is a lot easier than the refrigerator. Basically, you just want foods, no matter what kind, to stay frozen!

  • Full Freezer: A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours.
  • Half-Full Freezer: The timeline drops down to 24 hours if your freezer is not full. Try to group the foods close together so they stay colder longer.

After the power comes back on, check foods for ice crystals. If there are still crystals, you can safely refreeze it again.

This post originally ran on Kitchn. See it there: Here’s What to Keep and Throw Out After a Power Outage