Keep cold food safe during a power outage

Temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer will begin to rise during an extended power outage. Plan ahead to keep your cold food safe.

With all the severe winter weather Michigan is experiencing this season, it is important to be prepared if the electricity goes out. Prevent your food from spoiling and keep your food safe during a power outage by planning ahead. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following tips to make sure food in your refrigerator and freezer will stay safe during an outage.

Before an outage:

  • Put a thermometer in every one of your refrigerators and freezers. Place thermometers where you can quickly see them when you open the door. A refrigerator should always be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder and a freezer should be at zero degrees.
  • If you think a power outage is a possibility, reduce the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer. The colder your food is, the longer it takes to thaw.
  • Keep large containers of ice in your freezer to keep the temperature down. The more full your freezer is, the longer the food inside will stay frozen. Also, a block of ice could be put into the refrigerator to keep the temperature down. A block of ice will help to keep food cold for about 24 hours.
  • Place two or three ice cubes in a plastic freezer bag and seal. Keep this in the freezer at all times. If there is a power outage you will know if the interior temperature was above 32 degrees Fahrenheit if the cubes melt. If the cubes are melted, quickly determine the temperature of the water in the bag and you will know the temperature inside the freezer.
  • Find out where you can get dry ice if you should need it. Understand that dry ice can be very dangerous if not handled properly, so take precaution.

When the power does go out:

  • If you are home when the power goes out, check the time. As a rule of thumb, a refrigerator will keep food cold for four to six hours. Food in the refrigerator/freezer will stay frozen for about a day. A full freestanding freezer may be safe for 48 hours and a half-full freezer for 24 hours.
  • Cover the refrigerator or freezer with newspapers and blankets. Be sure vents are uncovered in case the freezer starts operating again.
  • Avoid opening the door to refrigerators and freezers unless you need to move the food to someone else’s home that has electricity or to add a block of ice or dry ice.

For more on dealing with food and power outages, review the University of Illinois Disaster Resource chart to help you determine the safety of your food. You can also contact your local MSU Extension office for help in determining the safety of your food.

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