Food Safety

During an extended power outage, you will need to have a supply of food to last several days, a way to prevent spoilage and the illness that is associated with consuming bad food, and also salvage as much of your valuable grocery inventory as possible. Learn how to keep food safe before, during, and after an emergency situation below.

Before a Storm

Put Together an Emergency Food Supply

A serious storm or other disaster can not only cause a power outage, but it can also disrupt the food supply, so plan to have at least a 3-day supply of food on hand.

Choose foods that:

  • Have a long storage life
  • Require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration
  • Meet the dietary needs of all family members, particularly infants
  • Meet pets’ needs
  • Are not very salty or spicy, as these foods increase thirst while water may not be readily available

Suitable foods include: ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables; protein or fruit bars; dry cereal or granola; peanut butter; dried fruit; canned juices; non-perishable pasteurized milk; high-energy foods; food for infants; comfort/stress foods

Find a comprehensive list of foods that are suitable for outage conditions and have a long shelf life on our Emergency Supplies page.

Prepare an Emergency Water Supply

  • Store at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet
  • Consider storing more water than this for hot climates, for pregnant women, and for people who are sick
  • Store at least a 3-day supply of water for each person and each pet
  • If your bottled water has an odor, do not drink or use it
  • Observe the expiration date for store-bought water; replace other stored water every 6 months

It's also a good idea to store a bottle of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water and to use for general cleaning and sanitizing. Try to store bleach in an area where the average temperature stays around 70°F (21°C). Because the amount of active chlorine in bleach decreases over time, consider replacing the bottle each year.

How to Store Your Emergency Food Supply

When storing food, you don’t have to buy dehydrated or so-called “emergency” food. Just follow some basic guidelines to keep things as fresh as possible.

Certain storage conditions can enhance the shelf life of canned or dried foods. The ideal location is a cool, dry, dark place. The best temperature is 40° to 70°F.

  • Check the expiration dates on canned foods and dry mixes
  • Home-canned food usually needs to be thrown out after a year
  • Use and replace food before its expiration date
  • Store foods away from ranges or refrigerator exhausts
  • Heat causes many foods to spoil more quickly
  • Store food away from petroleum products, such as gasoline, oil, paints, and solvents
  • Some food products absorb their smell
  • Protect food from rodents and insects
  • Items stored in boxes or in paper cartons will keep longer if they are heavily wrapped or stored in waterproof, airtight containers

Getting Your Supplies Ready for a Power Outage

  • Make sure you have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer
  • Check to ensure that the freezer temperature is at or below 0° F, and the refrigerator is at or below 40° F
  • Purchase or make ice cubes in advance, and freeze gel packs and containers of water to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately
  • Group food together in the freezer to help food stay cold longer
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold in an outage that lasts more than 4 hours
  • Check out local sources to know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased, in case it should be needed

During a Storm

If the Power Goes Out

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep an 18-cubic-foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days.
  • If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish, or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it is important that each item is thoroughly cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to ensure that any foodborne bacteria that may be present are destroyed. However, if at any point the food was above 40º F for 2 hours or more (or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 º F) — discard it.
  • During a snowstorm, do not place perishable food out in the snow. Outside temperatures can vary and food can be exposed to unsanitary conditions and animals. Instead, make ice. Fill buckets, empty milk containers, or cans with water, and leave them outside to freeze. Use the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.

After a Storm

Following a Power Outage

Throw away the following food:

  • Perishable food that has not been refrigerated or frozen properly due to power outages
  • Food that may have come in contact with floodwater or stormwater
  • Food with an unusual odor, color, or texture
  • All perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) in your refrigerator when the power has been off for 4 hours or more
  • All perishable foods in your freezer if they have thawed

Determine the safety of your food:

  • If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, check the temperature when the power comes back on
  • If the freezer thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety

Don’t rely on appearance or odor alone! If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut.

We have a handy guide you can refer to any time for a succinct overview of the food safety tips covered here.

Get the “Keep Food Safe Before, During & After the Storm” PDF

Infographic: Before, During and After a Power Outage

Creating an Emergency Kit

After an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days, so it's highly important to be prepared. A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency. Make sure your kit includes all the items we've put on our checklist.