Food Safety - Power Outage

During and after an extended power outage, food you normally keep in the refrigerator or freezer may become unsafe to eat. Bacteria can build up in perishable foods and may cause foodborne illness

The following food safety practices may help make sure your food is stored safely during a power outage. 

Preparing for a possible outage

  • Check that the temperature of your fridge and freezer is set correctly, i.e. fridge at or below 4°C(40°F); freezer at or below -18°C(0°F).
    • Use a thermometer to check the temperature. 
    • Turn the temperature control to the coldest setting. 
  • Have a cooler with ice ready ahead of time to keep refrigerated food cold if you suspect the power will be out for more than 4 hours.
  • If there is space in your freezer, fill containers such as empty milk cartons with water and freeze.  The blocks of ice will help maintain temperatures during a power outage. 
  • Pre-mix a food safe sanitizer to use on counters using household bleach.  Mix approximately 2ml of bleach (5.7%) with 1 litre of water.  Store under the kitchen sink. 
  • Have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes ready to use in case of a power outage. 
  • Have items on hand that do not require refrigeration, such as shelf-stable foods, including canned goods and bottled water.  Remember to replace these emergency storage food items periodically.
  • Make sure to have ready-to-use baby formula and pet food if needed.
  • Ensure you have a hand-held can opener to use.
  • Have a supply of potable water available, i.e. 4 litres of water per day per person for drinking, food preparation, personal hygiene and dish washing.
    • Have extra water available for pets and to flush toilets.

During a power outage

  • Do not open the refrigerator or freezer door unless absolutely necessary. 
    • Generally, an unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours.
    • Generally, an unopened freezer that is filled with frozen food will keep food frozen or cold for about 48 hours and about 24 hours if it is less than full.
  • If possible, add ice to the refrigerator to help keep food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. 
  • Exercise caution when placing frozen food outside in winter.  The sun’s rays could thaw frozen food even when the outdoor temperature is very cold, and animals could contaminate your food. 
  • Use the pre-mixed food safe sanitizer on counters where food is handled/prepared. Try to limit food handling as much as possible. 
  • Use hand sanitizer after using the washroom.  

After a power outage

  • Discard food that has been above 4⁰C (40⁰F) for 2 hours or more, or has an unusual odour, colour or texture.
  • Food that still contains ice crystals or feels refrigerator cold can be re-frozen.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety.  When in doubt, throw it out.
  • If you handle food that has spoiled: 
    • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling.  If water is not available for hand washing, use hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and sanitize any surface in your fridge or freezer that may have come in contact with raw or spoiled food, or their juices.  

Foods to Discard

The following food items are often associated with food borne illness and should be discarded if stored above 4°C (40°F) for more than 2 hours:

  • Raw or cooked meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and luncheon meats
  • Casseroles, stews or soups
  • Milk and soft cheeses
  • Homemade mayonnaise or dressings
  • Cooked pasta, potatoes or rice
  • Salads made with any of these foods

Foods to Save

Examples of food items which can be stored above 4°C (40°F) for several days include:

  • Butter and margarine
  • Hard or processed cheese
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been cut
  • Mustard, ketchup, olives
  • Commercially prepared salad dressings, peanut butter, barbeque sauce
  • Jams and jellies

For more information, visit Food Safety in an Emergency.

Drinking water safety 

For information on drinking water safety after a power outage, click here

For information about preparing for an emergency, visit Emergency Preparedness

 
Published date: 
January 25, 2023
Health and Wellness

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envhealth@ihis.org