Help! My Refrigerator or Freezer Stopped Working. Is My Food Safe?
A food safety guide after a power failure or appliance problem
Fact Sheet FS1178
Cooperative Extension
Daryl L. Minch, M.Ed., CFCS, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator, Somerset County
Power failures, doors left open, and appliance
breakdowns are reasons for a refrigerator or a freezer to
stop working properly. When this occurs, the quality
and safety of food or beverages in your refrigerator or
freezer is in question. You need to decide if the food is
safe.
Answer these Questions to Decide
If a Food Is Safe:
What is the freezer or refrigerator temperature at
now?
Keep a thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer areas
to monitor the temperature.
Is the Food Safe to Eat?
• The freezer should be at 0°F or below.
The answer is not simple; however these guidelines and
food charts will help you decide if a food is safe. You
must evaluate each food separately.
• The refrigerator should be at or below 40°F.
Health and Safety First
Staying healthy is most important. If you get sick from
eating an unsafe food, the cost of going to a doctor or
hospital will cost more than the cost of replacing the
food. Young children, older adults and people with
serious illnesses or weakened immune systems are more
at risk for foodborne illness. They may get sick sooner,
have more serious symptoms or die.
A food may look, smell, and taste good, but still contain
unsafe amounts of pathogens or toxins (poisons
produced by bacteria). Cooking is not guaranteed to
make the food safe. The golden rule of food safety is
“when in doubt, throw it out”, never taste the food!
If the temperature is higher than these
recommendations, then the food will start to thaw and/
or spoil more rapidly. The warmer the temperature, the
faster bacteria will grow in the food.
How much time has passed since the power went
out or the appliance failed?
• Write down the time when the power went off and
the time the power went back on. How long was the
power off? If you don’t know, give it your best guess.
For example was the power out 1 hour or 20 hours?
• Refrigerated food should be above 40°F for no more
than 2 hours. Longer times may allow bacteria to
grow.
• A full refrigerator with the door closed will hold its
temperature for about 4 hours.
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88 Lipman Drive, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8525
Phone: 848.932.5000
• A full freezer with the door closed will hold its
temperature for about 2 days, a half-full freezer
about 1 day. A full stand-alone freezer may stay
cold even longer. If the freezer is not full, stack
packages together to keep the food colder and fill
empty space with ice packs or bags of ice. Put trays
under food because it may drip when thawing.
• The foods listed below will remain safe without
refrigeration (see chart for other foods) so do
not worry about keeping them cold. These foods
are refrigerated to maintain quality and increase
storage time, not to keep them safe.
Refrigerator. Does food feel cold?
• Check the temperature of refrigerator foods, as soon
as the power goes back on.
• If possible, use an instant read thermometer to
check the temperature of foods. It is easy to test
milk or leftovers with an instant read thermometer.
Do other foods feel cold to the touch?
• Cold foods (40°F or less) may still be safe. Once
foods exceed 40°F, many will remain safe for only 2
more hours.
• Don’t open the freezer when the power is off, but
do inspect freezer foods immediately after the
power goes back on. If you wait too long, the food
will be cold or freeze again and you will not be able
to tell if it has thawed.
• Food that is partially frozen or contains ice crystals
may be refrozen or used.
• Thawed food loses quality (texture and flavor).
• Use the food chart to determine which foods to
keep and which to discard.
What to Do When the Power Goes Off
• Keep the refrigerator or freezer doors closed. Open
only as necessary.
• Write down the time when the power went off and
the time the power went back on so you will know
how long the power off.
o
o
o
o
• Food that is cold, (refrigerator temperature) may be
refrozen or used.
• Discard food that is warm or melted, except for
cooked (not raw) baked goods (examples: bread,
cookies, cake).
Uncut, fresh fruit and vegetables such as apples, lemons, limes, oranges, carrots, peppers, and broccoli. However, cut produce must be kept cold for safety.
Breads, muffins and other baked goods
Grated parmesan or Romano cheese
Jelly, taco sauce, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, barbeque sauce, and peanut butter
Butter or margarine
• If the power will be off a long time, choose one of
these options:
• Use the food chart to determine which foods to
keep and which to discard.
Freezer. Is the frozen food still hard to the touch?
Does it have ice crystals in it? Is it cold?
o
o
o
o
o
Group foods together in the refrigerator or freezer or in a cooler with ice. A cooler is easier to keep cold than the refrigerator. A freezer will stay cold longer with additional ice.
Find a friend with extra refrigerator or freezer space.
Locate frozen ice packs, block ice or bagged ice. Block ice lasts longer. Add ice or ice packs to the refrigerator and freezer. The more ice, the better. If placing in the refrigerator, place ice in a container to hold the melting water. Replace ice as it thaws.
Locate dry ice. Look under “ice” or “carbon
dioxide” in the telephone book. Dry ice is very cold (-109.3°F) and can burn skin, so wear protective gloves and follow directions on how to handle it safely. Twenty-five pounds of dry ice should keep a full 10 cubic-foot freezer cold for 3 or 4 days.
Discard Unsafe Food
Unsafe food can make people and animals sick. Do
not taste questionable food. Do not feed it to pets or
wild animals. Discard food by putting it in a plastic bag
and in a closed garbage container. Make sure animals
cannot get into it. Wash your hands and surfaces well
after handling potentially unsafe food.
REFRIGERATOR FOODS: When to Save and When to Throw It Out
General Rule: As long as the power has been out less than 2 hours, all foods will be safe. Otherwise consult
the chart below.
FOOD
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Fresh or leftover meat, poultry, fish, or seafood
Thawing meat or poultry
Meat, tuna, shrimp, chicken or egg salad
Gravy, stuffing, broth
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef
Pizza – with any topping
Canned hams labeled "Keep Refrigerated”
Canned meats and fish, opened
Held above 40ºF
for over 2 hours
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
CHEESE
Soft Cheeses: Blue/Bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, Cottage, Cream,
Edam, Monterey Jack, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, Queso
Blanco, Queso Fresco
Hard Cheeses: cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano
Processed Cheeses
Shredded Cheeses
Low-fat Cheeses
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar)
Discard
Safe
Safe
Discard
Discard
Safe
DAIRY
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog,
soy milk
Butter, margarine
Baby formula, opened
Discard
Safe
Discard
EGGS
Fresh eggs
Hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
Custards and puddings
Discard
Discard
Discard
CASSEROLES, SOUPS, STEWS
Discard
FRUIT
Fresh fruits, cut
Fruit juices, opened
Canned fruits, opened
Uncut fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates
Help! … Is my food safe? Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet - FS1178
Discard
Safe
Safe
Safe
FOOD
SAUCES, SPREADS, JAMS
Held above 40ºF
for over 2 hours
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish
Discard if above 50°F
for over 8 hours
Peanut butter
Relish, taco, barbecue & soy sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles
Jelly, jam
Fish sauces (oyster sauce)
Opened vinegar-based dressings
Opened creamy-based dressings
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar
Safe
Safe
Safe
Discard
Safe
Discard
Discard
BREAD, CAKES, COOKIES, PASTA, GRAINS
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas
Refrigerator biscuits, rolls, cookie dough
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette
Fresh pasta
Cheesecake
Waffles, pancakes, bagels
Safe
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Safe
PIES, PASTRY
Pastries, cream filled
Pies – custard, cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche
Pies, fruit
Discard
Discard
Safe
VEGETABLES
Dried mushrooms, herbs, spices
Fresh mushrooms
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged
Whole vegetables, raw
Vegetables, cooked
Vegetable juice, opened
Baked potatoes
Commercial garlic in oil
Potato salad
Safe
Discard
Discard
Safe
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
OTHER
Baby formula, opened
Soda, opened
Help! … Is my food safe? Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet - FS1178
Discard
Safe
FROZEN FOOD: When to Save and When To Throw It Out
General Rule: Frozen foods that still contain ice crystals or are at 40° F or below may be refrozen without much loss
of quality. Follow the guidelines in the chart below for individual foods. Discard any fully cooked food that has come
in contact with raw meat, poultry or seafood juices.
Partially thawed. Still
contains ice crystals.
Or thawed and feels
cold, as if refrigerated.
Thawed.
Held above 40°F for
over 2 hours.
Refreeze Refreeze Refreeze Refreeze Refreeze. However
there will be some
texture and flavor loss.
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Discard
Refreeze. May lose
quality.
Refreeze
Discard for quality
Refreeze. May lose
some texture.
Refreeze
Refreeze
Refreeze
Refreeze
Discard
Fruit Juices
Refreeze
Home or commercially packaged fruit
Refreeze. Will change
in texture and flavor.
Refreeze. Discard
if mold, yeasty
smell or sliminess
develops.
Refreeze. Discard
if mold, yeasty
smell or sliminess
develops.
FOOD
MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats
Poultry and ground poultry
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings)
Casseroles, stews, soups
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products
DAIRY & EGGS
Milk
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products
Ice cream, frozen yogurt
Cheese (soft and semi-soft)
Hard cheeses
Shredded cheeses
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses
Cheesecake
Discard
Discard
Discard
Refreeze
Discard
Discard
Discard
FRUIT
VEGETABLES
Vegetable Juices
Home or commercially packaged or blanched.
Help! … Is my food safe? Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet - FS1178
Refreeze
Discard after held
above 40ºF for 6
hours.
Refreeze. May suffer
Discard after held
texture and flavor loss. above 40ºF for 6
hours.
FOOD
BREADS, PASTRIES
Partially thawed.
Thawed.
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard
or cheese filling
Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough
Refreeze
Refreeze
Refreeze
Discard
Refreeze. Some quality loss may
occur.
Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.
Refreeze
Refreeze
Refreeze
Discard
Refreeze
Discard
OTHER
Casseroles – pasta or rice based
Flour, cornmeal, nuts
Frozen meal, entree, specialty
items (pizza, sausage and biscuit,
meat pie, convenience foods)
* Charts adapted from Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) “Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency” fact sheet. Available at fsis.usda.gov
Homemade Ice Packs
Fill clean quart or half gallon plastic containers (juice and soda bottles work well) with water, leaving a couple of inches
free for ice expansion during freezing. Freeze and store several ice packs in the freezer for use when traveling, camping
or emergencies. These solid ice packs thaw more slowly than ice cubes. You may also drink the water as it thaws.
For More Information:
• Rutgers Cooperative Extension Website: njaes.rutgers.edu
• Food Safety and Inspection Service Website: fsis.usda.gov
• FightBAC!™ Website: fightbac.org
• USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline: Weekdays 10 to 4 PM EST, 1-800-535-4555
• Food & Drug Administration Food Information Line: 888-SAFE FOOD
© 2012 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. All rights reserved.
For a comprehensive list of our publications visit www.njaes.rutgers.edu
March 2012
Cooperating Agencies: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
88 Lipman Drive, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8525
Phone: 848.932.5000
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