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Are You in the Dark About Food Safety and Power Outages?

May 17, 2016 by Adrienne Ngai, Registered Dietitian

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Keep foods safe in a power outage

Storms, wildfires, earthquakes or floods can lead to power outages. These dark times can be more than just inconvenient…they can also increase your risk of food borne illnesses. As the perishable foods in your fridge and freezer warm up, bacteria begin to multiply. The good news is that there are ways you can reduce your risk.

What should I do about the food in my fridge and freezer during a power outage?

Don’t open the refrigerator or freezer door unless you must. This will help keep the food cold longer.

Perishable foods are foods that will spoil quickly. Examples include vegetables and fruit, milk, cheese, yogurt, bread and fresh meat, poultry and seafood.

How long will food kept in the fridge or freezer be safe?

  • If the freezer is full: food will stay frozen for about 48 hours.
  • If the freezer is half full: food will stay frozen for about 24 hours.
  • If the door of the fridge is not opened: food will stay cold in it for about four hours. Don’t keep food outdoors to keep it cold or frozen because animals can contaminate your food, or the sun can thaw or raise the temperature of the food even if the outdoor temperature is cold.

Can I refreeze foods thawed during a power outage?

If the food is only partially thawed or contains ice crystals, it can be refrozen. If the juices have leaked from packages of raw meats, make sure to clean and sanitize the area.

If frozen food is thawed or refrigerated food isn’t cold anymore, but looks and smells ok, is it safe?

Perishable foods that have been at room temperature for two hours or more are no longer food safe and need to be thrown out. Food contaminated with bacteria may not give off an odor or look unsafe to eat. Remember…When in doubt, throw it out.

What can I do to plan ahead?

  • Make sure fridge and freezer temperatures are cold enough (check by using fridge and freezer thermometers).
    • Refrigerator temperature should be at 4°C (40°F) or lower
    • Freezer temperature should be at -18°C (°F) or lower
  • Put block ice in the fridge if you know that the power will be out for more than four hours.  You can also fill clean 4L milk cartons with water and freeze them ahead of time to use as ice blocks.
  • Make a list of foods in your freezer or fridge so that you know what is inside and where it is to decrease the amount of time you need to keep the door open.
  • Keep frozen foods close together. This will help keep them colder longer.
  • If you know the power will be out for a long time, make arrangements to keep your perishable foods at a friend or family’s fridge and freezer where there is power.
  • Learn about potential emergencies and hazards in your neighbourhood and be prepared by making an emergency plan and having an emergency kit in your home and car. Make sure your emergency kit includes emergency foods.

If you have more questions about food safety, call 8-1-1, toll free in BC, to speak with a registered dietitian at HealthLinkBC Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm or send us an email.


Related blogs

Food Tips and Recipes for Your Emergency Kit
Food Safety – Store it Right

Recommended resources

HealthLink BC: Foodborne Illness and Safe Food Handling
Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Food Safety in an Emergency
Government of Canada: Make an Emergency plan
Government of Canada: Emergency Kits
Government of Canada: Hazards and Emergencies

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