How long will food stay fresh during a power outage?

You might have noticed that we had a storm pass through our area on Thursday. In south Augusta, the storm was relatively mild. However, we lost power at 6 p.m.


As the hours ticked by, I started worrying and wondering: “How long will food stay good in my refrigerator, freezer and our small deep freezer? How long do I have before I have to start cooking things?”

This was a serious cause for concern for my family. My deep freezer is completely full of meat and frozen local fruits and vegetables from this summer, and my attached freezer is full from a recent stock-up sale on frozen vegetables.

As we sat in the dark, I recalled how my neighbors had lost power for three days earlier this summer and wondered what we could do to save our frozen stockpiles. Thankfully, my husband and I both have smartphones so we went searching on Google for answers.

According to the USDA Web site, a refrigerator will keep food from spoiling for four to six hours, depending on factors including external temperatures and how stable the internal temperature remains. It is critical that you keep the doors closed to stabilize the internal temperature. A person can delay spoilage past the four to six hours by putting large amounts of regular or dry ice inside the refrigerator. The internal temperature is the determining factor for food spoilage. Food becomes unsafe when the temperature of the refrigerator goes above 45 degrees for more than two hours.

In most small attached-style freezers, a half-full freezer will last up to 24 hours and a full freezer will last up to 48 hours. These times will depend on your refrigerator/freezer model and size. You can get more accurate information by looking up your model online or by calling the manufacturer, but as long as there are still ice crystals inside the freezer and your items are at least partially frozen, you will be able to refreeze your foods. The first casualty will be ice cream and whatever lies on the topmost shelves of your freezer; your foods will defrost from the top down.

Deep freezers keep food colder than attached freezers. This extends the length of time you can freeze items safely. For that reason, as long as you keep the door(s) closed, a chest-style deep freezer will keep foods frozen for up to 72 hours without power.

Thankfully, our outage was over by 1 a.m., so it only lasted for seven hours. Our refrigerator suffered the only losses of the night.

Thankfully, I hadn’t shopped on my normal night of the week, so our losses were minimal. If you are unfortunate enough to lose power over an extended period of time and end up losing large quantities of food, you might be able to be reimbursed. A customer service representative at Georgia Power told me that sometimes it does reimburse clients for food lost during outages, but doing so depends on factors such as the cause of the outage and how long it takes to restore power. If the outage was the result of weather and lasts less than 12 hours, Georgia Power is unlikely to reimburse you for damages.

However, if human error or faulty equipment causes the outage, a customer is eligible for reimbursement. The customer must submit a property damage claim and submit receipts (if possible).

You might also be reimbursed for food loss under your homeowner’s policy, but it depends on your coverage. According to, “Coverage for spoiled food generally arises from an ‘on premises’ power interruption, such as wind knocking down a tree onto your power meter. If power went out because of an ‘off premises’ interruption and knocked out power to the entire block, for example, it’s generally not covered by homeowner’s insurance. Some states make exceptions regarding spoiled food; if the power loss is caused by a break in a power line on or close to your property, you may be covered.”

Knowing these facts can make you more prepared in case of power loss and help to minimize loss within your stockpile.

Until next time, happy shopping!

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