Food Safety During Power Outages

Unfortunately, we experience more than our share of power outages in Shelby County, mainly due to our frequent severe weather. When power is out for more than 4 hours, the threat of bacteria growth and subsequent illness becomes an issue. Because of this, we want you to have the information necessary to protect yourself, your family, and hopefully keep you from having to throw away food that has ruined.

When frozen foods thaw, and refrigerated food warms, bacteria and other pathogens grown that can cause serious illnesses. If the power is out for less than four hours, the food in the refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. 


  • Keep an appliance thermometer in both the refrigerator and freezer. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is at 40 °F or below and the freezer is at 0 °F or below.
  • Group foods together in both the refrigerator and freezer. This helps foods stay cold longer. 
  • Keep the freezer full. Fill empty spaces with frozen plastic jugs of water, bags of ice, or gel packs.
  • Freeze refrigerated items that you may not need immediately, such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry. This will keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Have a large, insulated cooler and frozen gel packs available. Perishable foods will stay safe in a refrigerator only 4 hours. 
  • Find out where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.


  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. The refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours. If the power is off longer, you can transfer food to a cooler and fill with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Make sure there is enough ice to keep food in the cooler at 40 °F or below. Add more ice to the cooler as it begins to melt. 
  • A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
  • Obtain dry ice or block ice if your power is going to be out for a prolonged period. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot freezer for 2 days. (Caution: do not touch dry ice with bare hands or place it in direct contact with food.)
  • In freezers, food in the front, in the door, or in small, thin packages will defrost faster than large, thick items or food in the back or bottom of the unit. 


NEVER taste food to determine its safety - WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!

Unsafe foods
Discard the following if your refrigerator has been without power for more than 4 hours: 
• raw, cooked, or leftover meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and egg substitutes;
• luncheon meat and hot dogs;
• casseroles, soups, stews, and pizza;
• mixed salads (i.e., chicken, tuna, macaroni, potato);
• gravy and stuffing;
• milk, cream, yogurt, sour cream, and soft cheeses;
• cut fruits and vegetables (fresh);
• cooked vegetables;
• fruit and vegetable juices (opened);
• creamy-based salad dressings;
• batters and doughs (i.e., pancake batter, cookie dough);
• custard, chiffon, or cheese pies; 
• cream-filled pastries; and 
• garlic stored in oil. 
Discard opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and horseradish if they were held above 50 °F for over 8 hours.
Discard any foods like bread or salad greens that may have become contaminated by juices dripping from raw meat, poultry, or fish.
In general, if any food has an unusual odor, color, or texture, throw it out.
Safe-to-eat foods
High-acid foods such as mustard, ketchup, relishes, pickles, non-creamy salad dressings, jams, and jellies; however, they may spoil sooner. 
Foods that don’t actually require refrigeration. These foods may be used unless they turn moldy or have an unusual odor:
• whole fruits and vegetables (fresh); 
• fruit and vegetable juices (unopened);
• dried fruits and coconut; 
• baked goods such as fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins, and cakes (except those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings);
• hard and processed cheeses;
• butter and margarine;
• fresh herbs and spices;
• flour; and
• nuts.
Frozen foods that have thawed, but still contain ice crystals.
Foods that have remained at refrigerator temperatures – 40 °F or below. They may be safely refrozen; however, their quality may suffer. 
Foods that don’t actually need to be frozen. These foods may be used unless they turn moldy or have an unusual odor:
• dried fruits and coconut; 
• baked goods including fruit pies, bread, rolls, muffins, and cakes (except for those with cream cheese frosting or cream fillings); 
• hard and processed cheeses; 
• butter and margarine; 
• fruit juices; and 
• nuts.
If you have more questions about food quality of safety, please call the Health Department Environmental Sanitation Program at (901) 222-9200.

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