How to Keep Food Cold in a Power Outage

Murphy’s Law tells us the most likely time to experience a power outage is right after loading up a refrigerator and freezer with food and beverages.

If that has ever happened to you – or even if your refrigerator and freezer were no more than half full when a blackout occurred – you probably wondered if your food would stay edible prior to the power returning?

I think we’ve all been in that boat at one time or another. Fortunately, most power outages don’t last too long, although some can go on for multiple days.

Either way, how do you know whether your refrigerator and freezer food is still good or whether it needs to be tossed out?

The United States Department of Agriculture offers this guideline. Anything left unrefrigerated for over four hours at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is at risk of developing food-borne bacteria that could lead to illness. 

That’s good information if you know what time your power went out. But what if you come home to find the power is out? How do you know how long it’s been out? 

Here’s a 25-cent hack to tell

Here’s a clever hack from Put a cup of water in your freezer. Once the water is frozen, place a quarter on top of the ice. Then just leave it there.

If you come home to find that your power is out, check where the quarter is. If it’s still at or near the top, your food is probably safe to consume. But if it has sunk down toward the middle of the cup or lower, your food is probably starting to spoil.

Now, that’s hardly a scientific test. And it’s better to error on the side of caution. But nobody wants to waste food, and that little trick could be helpful in determining how long your power has been out.

Even if your food stays frozen, you don’t want to keep it frozen for too long before eating it. Registered dietician Allison Tepper has offered some tips regarding how long certain foods can maintain their flavor while frozen.

To summarize her thoughts, cooked meats, soups, casseroles, rice, and pasta should stay good when frozen for two to three months. Cheese can stay tasty for six months, nuts and herbs for a year, and flour for two years.

Before a power outage 

Prior to giving you a great suggestion regarding how to keep your food fresh during a blackout, let’s go over some before, during, and after advice. 

Before a power outage, know what the temperatures are inside your fridge and freezer. A new refrigerator might show those temps on an outside display so you don’t have to open either to find out. Otherwise, use the inside thermometers. 

Freeze containers of water and gel packs, and keep several coolers handy, depending on how much food you normally keep in your fridge and freezer. 

If you don’t have a cooler, buy plenty of ice to keep in your freezer and be ready to place it up against the food you most want to keep cold.  

During a power outage

Keep your freezer and refrigerator doors closed. The more often you open those doors during an outage, the warmer the contents will become.

By keeping your refrigerator and freezer doors closed, food should stay safe for up to four hours in the fridge, 48 hours in a full freezer, and 24 hours in a half-full freezer.

After those hours pass and the power is still out, place your frozen containers of water and frozen gel backs into your coolers, along with your food. 

Periodically check the temperature within the cooler, but not too often, as you don’t want to add warmth to the inside by opening it.

After a power outage 

Once your power is back on, you may be tempted to smell or taste your food to see if it’s still good. The problem here is that food can go bad without smelling bad. And even a small taste of a food item that has spoiled could make you sick.

Be especially careful with meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers. When in doubt, throw it out.

Check the temperature of your food that you attempted to keep cold. If it’s above 40 degrees, get rid of it.

If any of your food has changed color or texture, toss it out. But it’s OK to re-freeze thawed food from your freezer if its temperature is 40 or lower. Even if you see some ice crystals.

Solar Go-Fridge

As promised, there is an even better way to keep food safe if your power goes out than what we’ve discussed so far.

The Solar Go-Fridge from 4Patriots can keep food cold for days – without ice and even if you have no electrical power. 

It’s a solar ice chest with a fridge compartment for drinks, snacks, and medicine; a freezer compartment for ice cream and popsicles; and a sub-zero chamber for frozen meats and long-lasting vegetables. 

Get your Solar Go-Fridge here >>

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