Power outages can happen suddenly due to various reasons, such as weather emergencies, natural disasters or equipment failure. When the power goes off, for long periods of time, harmful bacteria can grow and the food in your refrigerator and freezer may become unsafe to eat. Consuming this food may cause foodborne illness. The most common symptoms of foodborne illness may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.

Important Measures to Prevent Getting Sick

If you know that a power failure will last for a long period of time, see if you can take the food to a friend nearby who has power. Otherwise follow instructions below:

Power outage for more than four hours:

  • Throw out any perishable foods in your refrigerator. Perishable foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, leftovers, cut fruits and vegetables.

Power outage for more than 24 to 48 hours:

  • Throw out any perishable foods in your freezer.
  • Food that still contains ice crystals or feels refrigerator-cold can be re-frozen.

Additional steps:

  • Throw out any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • Harmful bacteria may not impact the taste or smell of the food.  Do not taste food to determine if it is safe. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Clean and sanitize before reusing equipment.


If you need information on proper storage of your prescription drugs that require refrigeration, such as insulin, call your doctor or pharmacist.

What to Do During a Power Outage

Try to keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. If the doors stay closed, the food will stay safe for up to:

  • Four hours in a refrigerator
  • 48 hours in a full freezer
  • 24 hours in a half-full freezer

If the power has been out for more than four hours, and you have a cooler and ice available, transfer the perishable food from the refrigerator to the cooler. Add ice or gel packs to keep the food at or below 4°C (40°F).

Do not place frozen food outside, even in winter. The sun’s rays could thaw frozen food even when the outdoor temperature is very cold, and animals could contaminate your food.

Plan Ahead

The best way to prevent foodborne illness during a power outage is to plan ahead. Here are some tips:

  • Before a power outage, check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. The refrigerator should be at or below 4°C (40°F) and the freezer should be at or below -18°C (0°F).
  • Equip all refrigerators and freezers with appliance thermometers. Regularly check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. This may help you determine if they are working properly.
  • Freeze containers of water and gel packs to help keep your food cold in case of a power outage. Have a cooler and frozen gel packs handy in case you must remove your food from the refrigerator to keep it cold.
  • Have some shelf-stable foods, such as canned goods and water, that do not require refrigeration. Remember to have a manual can opener and replace these emergency foods periodically.
  • If you have a baby or a pet, have some ready-to-use formula and pet food available.

For more information on food safety during a power outage, you can visit these websites: