I live in a cold state and the winters here are quite brutal. Even as I type the wind chill temperatures today range around -20 degrees Fahrenheit. And with the frigid temperatures, there have been many power outages due to ice on the lines and accidents. A month ago there were many people across the state who lost power for 5 to 6 days. Unfortunately, power outages can happen any time and anywhere. Then you start wondering how long the food in your refrigerator will last when the power goes out.
At what temperature should your refrigerator and freezer be set?
Ideally you should have the temperature set in the refrigerator at 35 (or no more than 40) degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer at or just below 32 degrees. You want your food to remain cold, but you don’t want it to have frost on it either.
Your refrigerator and freezer will hold the temperature better when your fridge is about 85 percent full. When an item is taken out of a full refrigerator or freezer, it doesn’t lose as much of the coldness. So, try to keep both sides almost full, but not over full, because then airflow is restricted. It is also good to remember that the items in the door will be subjected to the most heat. For condiments it is not a big deal, but for eggs it will make them expire faster.
How long will the refrigerator keep cold when the power goes out?
If you lose electricity the first rule is to KEEP THE DOOR SHUT! A refrigerator will be able to keep the right temperature for about four hours if the door remains shut. The freezer will be able to keep the right temperature for up to 48 hours if the door is shut, and it is full. If the freezer is only half full then it will only keep the right temperature for about 24 hours.
If the power does go out and your freezer doesn’t have much in it then group the items together to help them remain cold. Also, if you have some warning that a power outage may happen, freeze bags of water and put them in both your freezer and refrigerator to help keep items cold.
Another good thing to do after the power comes back on is to put a thermometer in both the freezer and refrigerator and find out what the temperature is. If any food has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours, throw it out. Also, if it smells funny or feels warm, throw it out. If frozen food still has ice crystals on it, it is safe to refreeze as long as it is not over 40 degrees.
If you are not sure about whether or not it’s safe, then you should throw it away. If your stove and oven are working, you may be able to cook some food to save it, but keep in mind how long you expect the power to be out, and if you’ll need to eventually refrigerate the food. Don’t risk food poisoning with food that hasn’t been refrigerated.
A solution or two
If you are really concerned about losing food in your refrigerator, you might want to buy a back-up generator. Generators can be turned on during a power outage and restore electricity when you have none. Your refrigerator will regain power, and you might save some food, but consider the expensive cost of generators, as well.
If you live in a very cold area, you may be able to store your food outside. But use caution. The sun can warm and thaw food even if the air is cold. Make sure your food is safely away from animals.
If your freezer is full it will be good for two days. If the power outage is shorter than that I wouldn’t worry about moving things outside.
Hopefully you won’t experience a power outage any time soon, but if you do, follow these tips to keep you safe from expired food.