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How Long Will Food Stay Fresh in a Powerless Fridge?

Millions of East Coast consumers may be asking that question

Whether it's a hurricane or a run-of-the-mill power failure, one major area of concern is keeping a safe supply of food. You might have plenty of non-perishable food items on hand but what about the food that's in your refrigerator?

Obviously, the food is in the fridge to keep it from spoiling and without power to the appliance, it will eventually go bad. But how long does that take?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours without power, as long as you keep the doors closed. The more you open the door, the shorter that period becomes.

40 degrees F is safe

A powered refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees F or lower and the freezer should be 0 degrees F or lower. If you are without power for any length of time, you should use an appliance thermometer to help you keep track of your refrigerator's temperature.

If you expect to lose power in an approaching storm, go ahead and freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately -- this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer. Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case of power outage. You can also use melted ice for drinking water.

If you are able to make or purchase ice ahead of time, have coolers on hand to keep the refrigerator food cold in case the power is out for more than four hours.

If you lose power, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. USDA says a full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours and 24 hours if half-full.

When the lights come back on

When the power is restored, check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40 degrees F or below, the food is safe. If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals, it’s safe.

Discard any perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40 degrees F for two hours or more. And when in doubt, throw it out.

The video below, produced by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, has more food safety tips.

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