Power outages in 2022: The best way to keep your refrigerated food from spoiling

This story is part of home tipsCNET’s collection of practical tips for making the most of your home, inside and out.

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico over the weekend, leaving most of the island without power amid torrential rain and flooding. If you’ve been affected by a storm, you may be wondering how to keep food in your fridge—especially if the power has been cut off for several days, experts predict. And if you haven’t, it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility of a file power outage In your home now, like extreme weather events Tornadoes And the heat waves It is expected to continue to affect the United States.

Losing a refrigerator full of food is expensive, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous if you can’t get out to a store in the middle of a storm. But there are ways to prepare in advance so you can save all or most of your perishables. Here’s what to do.

For more disaster preparedness tips, check out our guide to How to prepare for hurricanes, wildfires, storms and other natural disastersAnd the 11 things to do to prepare for interruption.

Read more: Best refrigerator of 2022

When possible, prepare to save your food before the power goes out

Before you experience a power outage, it is best to take a few steps to prepare in case you need to save your food. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having the following items on hand:

  • appliance thermometers For both the fridge and freezer, so you can monitor if the temperatures are rising and you need to start removing the food. The refrigerator should not rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer should not rise above 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • a cooler And the frozen gel packsIn case you have to take food out of the fridge to keep it cold.
  • dry ice Or an ice block to keep food cold in the fridge, if you think the current will be out for a long time.

Read more: Best coolers of 2022

What do you do with your food when the power goes out for the first time?

When an outage occurs, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed – don’t open them unless you absolutely need to, and even then, try to do it quickly so you don’t let cold air out. If the doors remain closed, your food can remain safe for up to four hours in the refrigerator, 48 hours in the freezer full and 24 hours in the refrigerator half full, according to the CDC.

Once you’ve crossed the four-hour mark (or if you’ve seen the temperature inside the refrigerator rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) and the power is still off, it’s time to start moving food out of the refrigerator. If perishable food is left in the refrigerator after this point, you will have to throw it out completely.

The exception here would be if you have dry ice. You can put dry ice on the top shelf of your freezer and the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, and it will keep your perishables cold. You need about 3 pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of freezer space, which should keep food cold for at least two days. Just make sure you know how to handle dry ice safely before using it.

Food in the cooler including apples, cheese, and meat

If the power goes out for more than four hours, you’ll likely want to move your perishable food to a cooler.

Vichysam / Getty Images

Separate your food into two groups

First, you’ll make two piles: food that needs to be kept cold, and food that’s safe to leave on the counter until the power comes back on.

Foods that do not need to be kept cold

The following foods can be kept safely in the refrigerator:

  • Butter (for 1-2 days)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Most cooking oils except nut oils
  • herbs
  • Potato
  • Most fruits and vegetables
  • bread
  • coffee
  • honey
  • Ketchup, mustard and hot sauce

Foods that should be kept cold

The following foods should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage:

  • Dairy products (cheese, milk, cream, sour cream)
  • egg
  • Meat, poultry and fish (cooked or uncooked)
  • Cut fruit and vegetables
  • leftovers

How to keep perishable foods cold without a refrigerator

Once you have your pile of perishable food, it’s time to pull out your cooler and ice packs. Put a layer of frozen foods on the bottom. Then place a layer of foods from the refrigerator on top of that layer. Put another layer of frozen foods on top. If you don’t have any ice packs or ice, go to the store and buy some if it’s safe to do so.

Put layers of ice or ice packs around the food in the cooler – don’t throw it all at the top or bottom. The distribution of the ice will keep the food at a more consistent temperature. Move the refrigerator thermometer into the radiator to monitor the temperature.

If you don’t have a cooler, you can use a freezer instead – it’s insulated and will keep your food cold as long as you leave the door closed and keep a fresh stock of ice inside. To prevent thawing from turning your freezer into a puddle, place the ice in bowls and place it around the food.

You should never taste food to see if it’s bad — when in doubt, throw it out, the CDC advises. Dispose of any food with unusual odors, colors, or textures immediately. For frozen foods, you can safely refreeze or cook frozen foods that are thawed at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less, or that still contain ice crystals.

For more tips on how to prepare for natural disasters, check out How to pack an emergency bagAnd the How to recover important documents after a natural disaster.

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