Food Safety During Power Outages

With Queensland and the NT getting hammered by Cyclone Lam and Cyclone Marcia at the moment consumers need to be aware of food safety during power outages.

February 20, 2015 By Grace Smith

With Queensland and the NT getting hammered by Cyclone Lam and Cyclone Marcia at the moment, the team at the Australian Institute of Food Safety are getting lots of enquiries 
as to how to handle power outages.

A power outage is never a convenient occurrence. However, some issues related to a power outage could actually be more than just mildly irritating. When it comes to your food supply, it’s incredibly important to know how to handle the situation. Which items should be thrown out if you have a power outage and when? What can you do to make sure you and your family stay safe as far as what you eat?

Be Prepared for Power Outages

Always be sure that your refrigerator is set to properly low temperatures in order to ensure that the food in it stays as fresh as possible should a power outage occur. Also make sure your pantry is well stocked with alternative options that are non-perishable so that you and your loved ones have plenty to eat.

Grains, bread, produce, and alternative dairy items are all terrific options. You should also make sure to have alternative protein sources on hand like canned tuna or peanut butter.

What to Do During Power Outages

When the power goes out, do what you can to preserve the food inside of your fridge and freezer. Keep the doors shut whenever possible, as this helps to maintain cold temperatures to the greatest degree possible. How long the power is out will determine whether or not your food will remain safe to eat after it goes back on.

The 2 Hour - 4 Hour Rule

As a general rule, for food that was refrigerated always follow the 2 hour-4 hour rule. In it's simplest form, this rule states:

  • If the power was out for less than 2 hours, it's okay to refrigerate or consume the food
  • If the power was out between 2 and 4 hours, the food is okay to consume but don't put it back in the refrigerator
  • If the power was out for more than 4 hours, discard the food

Some items such as peanut butter, sauces and vegetables will be safe even if the power was out for more than 4 hours. However, it's always better to be safe than sorry and discard if you're not sure.

For frozen foods the rules are different. A freezer that is full to capacity will retain its temperature well enough to preserve food for two days. A half full freezer can accomplish this for about 24 hours.

Always Err on the Side of Caution

You should always double check the temperature inside your refrigerator once the power goes back on. If you’re in doubt about any item in particular, it’s better to throw it out than to risk getting sick.