By Norm Elrod

Losing power in your home can be a major inconvenience. The lights don’t work. The internet doesn’t work. Anything that requires electricity doesn’t work. That includes your refrigerator and freezer, where much of your food is kept.

A short power outage is manageable. According to the CDC, any food in the refrigerator should last up to four hours, assuming the refrigerator was originally set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. A freezer set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below can keep frozen food for up to 48 hours if the freezer is full, and up to 24 hours if the freezer is half full. Items kept close together will stay cold longer.

Keeping the door shut as much as possible will maintain the temperature and help preserve the food. Frozen water bottles and gel packs can also help keep food cold. If you don’t have those handy, a cooler filled with ice can work too.

The United States Department of Agriculture does not recommend putting food outside in the winter. Outside temperatures can vary. The sun can thaw food, even in very cold temperatures. Leaving food outside can also be unsanitary and expose it to animals.

Un-refrigerated food will last up to four hours, if the door is kept closed. After that amount of time, you’ll need to judge each food item on a case-by-case basis. But here are some general guidelines:

  • Discard eggs, fish, meat, and milk, along with cut fruits and vegetables and leftovers after four hours.
  • Throw out any food that looks or smells funny.
  • Never taste food to figure out if it’s still edible.

Here is an itemized list of food items and what to do with them after a power outage.

A little preparation, especially if a power outage seems imminent, can minimize the loss of food to spoilage. Water bottles and frozen gel packs stored in the freezer can be pressed into service in a pinch.

Shelf-stable perishables, like boxed milk, bottled water and canned food are also useful as part of an emergency food supply.