Throw These Items Away During Extended Power Outages

August 5, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Tovah Tripp, MD

Emergencies can happen at any time. Especially during the late-summer months along the East Coast where hurricanes and tropical storms can strike, leaving residents without power for extended periods of time.

One of the most important things to consider in a power outage is the items in your refrigerator and freezer. If you’re without power for more than a couple of hours, there’s a risk that food inside can grow bacteria to dangerous levels and medications can become ineffective. Here’s what you need to know:

How long is food safe?

As a rule, you should try to keep your refrigerator doors closed as much as possible. With the doors closed, food can stay safe:

  • 4 hours in a refrigerator
  • 48 hours in a full-freezer and 24 hours in a half freezer like the one attached to your refrigerator.

What about medication?

Most temperature-controlled medications like insulin and certain antibiotics can lose their effectiveness after being exposed to elevated temperatures.

“If you’ve lost power for more than a few hours, contact your doctor right away to arrange for a new supply of medication,” says Tovah Tripp, M.D. an internal medicine specialist with Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group. “If you rely on this medication to sustain your life, like insulin, continue using the medicine until you’re able to get a new prescription.”

What items should I get rid of after time has passed?

Many items should be discarded if there’s been a significant power outage. Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below, however, the quality of the product may suffer. You should never taste food to determine its safety.

Refrigerated Food – Discard if power outage longer than 4 hours

  • Meat, poultry and seafood items
  • Soft, shredded and low-fat cheeses
  • Milk, eggs and baby formula
  • Cut or sliced fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Cooked tofu or vegetables
  • Opened sauces and creamy dressings

Frozen Food – Discard if power outage longer than 24-48 hours depending on type of freezer

  • Meat, poultry and seafood items
  • Most cheeses and dairy items
  • Cakes, pies and pastries with dairy
  • Casseroles and frozen meals
  • Baby formula and breast milk

“Anything that is off in color, smell, texture or appearance should be discarded just to be safe,” says Dr. Tripp. “If you’re even in doubt about an item, just throw it out.”

Next Steps & Resources:

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.