How to determine whether frozen food is safe to eat after a power outage

January 23, 2023

Refrigerated or frozen foods may be unsafe to consume following a power outage. A fully stocked freezer should stay at a safe temperature for roughly 48 hours if the door is kept closed. Without power, a half-full freezer should be safe for about 24 hours. Many foods and beverages should be safe to refreeze if stored between -17.77° C freezer temperature and 4.44° C refrigerator temperature, however, they may lose some quality in the process. Temperature is essential because perishable foods can start to spoil or grow pathogenic bacteria like E. coli or salmonella more quickly than you might imagine.

If you suspect that the frozen food has been exposed to temperatures above 4.44° C for more than 2 hours, discard them. To keep the food at 4.44° C or lower, use ice or a cold source such as frozen gel packs.  Some foods are safe to refreeze and consume later if kept between -17.77° C and 4.44° C for a short period of time. The CDC advises discarding any food that has an odd flavor, texture, or appearance. And you should never taste food to evaluate its safety.

If you’re not sure whether it’s still good, discard it and restock the fresh. Checking the actual temperature of the food inside your refrigerator can tell you if it is safe to eat.

For any potentially hazardous food that has been stored at temperatures ranging from 5 to 60°C for:

  • Less than 2 hours – refrigerate or use immediately
  • Longer than 2 hours but less than 4 hours – use immediately
  • 4 hours or longer – must be thrown out.

Food preservation tips for when a power outage is a probability

  • Make sure you have plenty of non-perishable goods. 
  • Keep a thermometer in your fridge and freezer.
  • Freeze extra ice and water bottles to help keep food cold.
  • Avoid purchasing food that needs to be refrigerated.
  • Open the freezer door only when required, as this reduces the amount of time the contents will remain frozen.
  • If the freezer isn’t completely filled when the power goes out, quickly put containers of food together so they can keep each other cold.

When power comes back:

  • Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of food products.
  • Even if the power was out for less than four hours, throw away any food, especially raw meat, that shows evident signs of rotting, such as bad odors, sticky texture, or unusual color.
  • Food can be refrozen if it is hard frozen and there are ice crystals on the package.

Refreezing frozen foods:

Foods that still have ice crystals can be safely refrozen. Foods that have thawed entirely but are still cold 4.44° C or lower can be refrozen if the following procedures are followed:

  • Fruits can be refrozen if they still look and smell good.
  • Vegetables should not be refrozen after being thawed since bacteria develop quickly in these foods. Re-freezing is possible if ice crystals are present.
  • Meat and poultry should be discarded if the temperature of the meat has been above 4.44° C for two hours or more. Even if the meat is still cold, discard it if the color or odor is poor or doubtful. Meat that has not gone bad can be prepared and frozen.
  • Fish and shellfish should not be refrozen if totally thawed because they are particularly perishable. If ice crystals are present, they may refreeze.
  • Do not refreeze frozen dinners or ice cream.
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