Food Safety During Weather Emergencies

We practice basic safe food handling in our daily lives, but storing food safely becomes more challenging during a power outage caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes, severe storms, or earthquakes.

Food can only last for just a few hours when the power goes out. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.

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Knowing how to keep food safe before a loss of power – and to determine if food is safe after a loss of power – will help minimize the loss of food and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Food Safety Tips: Before, During & After Power Loss

Whether you lose power from a hurricane, strong storm, downed tree, flood or even blizzard, food safety during severe weather is often the same.  If your power goes out, you should know how to keep the food in your refrigerator and freezer safe.  Follow these easy tips to save money and keep your family safe from food poisoning:

Before: Preparing for a Power Outage

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0 °F (Fahrenheit) or below and the refrigerator is at 40 °F or below.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers after the power is out.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately-this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice cubes and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Group food together in the freezer—this helps the food stay cold longer.
  • If you know the power will be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the fridge or freezer cold for about two days.

During a Power Outage

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to keep food safe longer!
  • The fridge will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed while a full freezer will stay at temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • Group frozen foods together so maintain cold temperatures.  Foods in the back will stay frozen longer than food in the door or in the front.

After the Power Returns

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Discard any perishable foods like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy, and leftovers if your refrigerator has been above 40 °F for more than 4 hours.
  • Frozen foods that have thawed, but still contain ice crystals, are considered safe to eat.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety—remember, When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

Consumer Guide to Food Safety

USDA: A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes (PDF)

Additional Resources

Flood

Hurricane

Severe Storms and Hurricanes Guide

Tornado

Earthquake