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How to Protect Your Food Supply During Power Disruptions


Our perishable foods make up a majority of our grocery bills each month. Therefore, we want to protect as much as possible. When an emergency comes and disrupts our power sources, that investment of perishable food is threatened.

Food safety is vital at all times

We want to ensure that our food is safe for consumption. That said, if our food becomes contaminated in some way due to temperature fluctuations, cross-contamination or improper handling, food-borne illnesses can occur and symptoms have the possibility of becoming severe. Moreover, due to the delayed response from overwhelmed emergency medical teams, food poisoning could actually become fatal.

After a disaster wrecks havoc, the clean up time begins. You immediately want to check your food source to ensure it is safe to eat. The USDA [2] and the CDC [3] have provided some guidelines to food safety after a disaster.

In this specific incident, the risk is not only from the power outage, but in many areas people also face the risk of contamination from flood waters.

  • After a flood, throw away food that may have come into direct contact with flood water, without exception.
  • Food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater because they cannot be disinfected.
  • If store-bought cans have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz/250 mL) of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.
  • CDC recommends discarding wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers. These items cannot be properly sanitized if they have come into contact with flood waters.
  • Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available).
  • Thoroughly wash counter tops with soap and water, using hot water if available. Rinse and then sanitize them by applying a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow to air-dry.
  • Others are dealing with extended power outages.  If your refrigerator and freezer were loaded with food, you may be wondering if any of it is still safe to eat.

So how long will your food last when the electricity goes out? Refrigerated food will stay cold for 4-6 hours assuming the door is left closed as much as possible.  After that time, many of the items in your refrigerator should be discarded.  This chart [2] from the USDA offers guidelines. In a fully stocked freezer, frozen foods will remain safely frozen for approximately two day.


FOOD Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
Raw or leftover cooked meat, poultry, fish, or seafood; soy meat substitutes
Thawing meat or poultry Discard
Meat, tuna, shrimp,chicken, or egg salad Discard
Gravy, stuffing, broth Discard
Lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, dried beef Discard
Pizza – with any topping Discard
Canned hams labeled “Keep Refrigerated” Discard
Canned meats and fish, opened Discard
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 Safe
Processed Cheeses Safe
Shredded Cheeses Discard
Low-fat Cheeses Discard
Grated Parmesan, Romano, or combination (in can or jar) Safe
Milk, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, yogurt, eggnog, soy milk
Butter, margarine Safe
Baby formula, opened Discard
Fresh eggs, hard-cooked in shell, egg dishes, egg products
Custards and puddings Discard
Fresh fruits, cut
Fruit juices, opened Safe
Canned fruits, opened Safe
Fresh fruits, coconut, raisins, dried fruits, candied fruits, dates Safe
Opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce, horseradish
Discard if above 50 °F for over 8 hrs.
Peanut butter Safe
Jelly, relish, taco sauce, mustard, catsup, olives, pickles Safe
Worcestershire, soy, barbecue, Hoisin sauces Safe
Fish sauces (oyster sauce) Discard
Opened vinegar-based dressings Safe
Opened creamy-based dressings Discard
Spaghetti sauce, opened jar Discard
Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas
Refrigerator biscuits,rolls, cookie dough Discard
Cooked pasta, rice, potatoes Discard
Pasta salads with mayonnaise or vinaigrette Discard
Fresh pasta Discard
Cheesecake Discard
Breakfast foods –waffles, pancakes, bagels Safe
Pastries, cream filled
Pies – custard,cheese filled, or chiffon; quiche Discard
Pies, fruit Safe
Fresh mushrooms, herbs, spices
Greens, pre-cut, pre-washed, packaged Discard
Vegetables, raw Safe
Vegetables, cooked; tofu Discard
Vegetable juice, opened Discard
Baked potatoes Discard
Commercial garlic in oil Discard
Potato Salad Discard
Frozen Food
When to Save and When To Throw It Out
FOOD Still contains ice crystals and feels as cold as if refrigerated Thawed.
Held above 40 °F for over 2 hours
Beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ground meats
Refreeze Discard
Poultry and ground poultry Refreeze Discard
Variety meats (liver, kidney, heart, chitterlings) Refreeze Discard
Casseroles, stews, soups Refreeze Discard
Fish, shellfish, breaded seafood products Refreeze. However, there will be some texture and flavor loss. Discard
Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard
Eggs (out of shell) and egg products Refreeze Discard
Ice cream, frozen yogurt Discard Discard
Cheese (soft and semi-soft) Refreeze. May lose some texture. Discard
Hard cheeses Refreeze Refreeze
Shredded cheeses Refreeze Discard
Casseroles containing milk, cream, eggs, soft cheeses Refreeze Discard
Cheesecake Refreeze Discard
Refreeze Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
Home or commercially packaged Refreeze. Will change texture and flavor. Refreeze. Discard if mold, yeasty smell, or sliminess develops.
Refreeze Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
Home or commercially packaged or blanched Refreeze. May suffer texture and flavor loss. Discard after held above 40 °F for 6 hours.
Breads, rolls, muffins, cakes (without custard fillings)
Refreeze Refreeze
Cakes, pies, pastries with custard or cheese filling Refreeze Discard
Pie crusts, commercial and homemade bread dough Refreeze. Some quality loss may occur. Refreeze. Quality loss is considerable.
Casseroles – pasta, rice based
Refreeze Discard
Flour, cornmeal, nuts Refreeze Refreeze
Breakfast items –waffles, pancakes, bagels Refreeze Refreeze
Frozen meal, entree, specialty items (pizza, sausage and biscuit, meat pie,convenience foods) Refreeze Discard

Some other helpful hints for protecting your food investment are:

Sanitation during Disasters Can Be a Nightmare

Another challenge during a disaster is basic sanitation. You will need to have clean hands, clean cookware, clean food prep areas and clean dishes and utensils. By planning ahead you can have many things in place that will allow you to do this more simply and efficiently. In a short-term disaster, disposable items are incredibly useful, partly because you don’t have to use valuable clean water for washing them.

Following many natural disasters, local water supplies and garbage pickup services tend to be delayed. Adding a simple sanitation kit [4] to your emergency supplies can make a huge difference in terms of keeping your family safe. Additionally, learning how to properly dispose of waste not only promotes good hygiene, but also minimizes sanitation-related illnesses.

Even if you don’t have running water, clean your hands carefully with baby wipes and/or antibacterial hand sanitizer after using the restroom, changing diapers or dealing with garbage.

Take care not to cause cross-contamination when preparing food. Surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat must be immediately cleaned and sanitized before other food is prepared there.  After touching raw meat, be sure to wash your hands to avoid contaminating other surfaces.

In a longer-term emergency, cleaning supplies may begin to run low. Many cleaning supplies can be made with everyday household items.  Be certain to stock a big supply of basics like white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice.

Citrus Cleaner

  • Peel from any citrus fruit
  • 1 quart of white vinegar


Add the peel to vinegar and place in a closed container for two weeks.  Mix half and half with water in a spray bottle and use for cleaning floors, tiles, fixtures, kitchen surfaces and bathroom surfaces.

Soft Scrubbing Cleanser

  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 4 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp. liquid dish detergent
  • ½ tsp. fresh lemon juice


  1. Combine all ingredients and make into a paste.
  2. Store in a small container.

Glass Cleaner

  •  1 c. rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. of non-sudsing ammonia (clear ammonia)


Mix the ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake well and apply to glass surfaces, then wipe dry.

 Homemade Spray Cleaner

  • 1 c. white vinegar
  • 1 c. water


Shake well and apply.  Use on kitchen counter tops, toilets, bathrooms, bathtubs.

Produce Wash

To remove toxic pesticides from produce, use the following method:

  • 2 cups of white vinegar
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • Big squirt of all natural dish soap


Add the above ingredients to the sink and then fill it with hot water.

  1. Allow your produce to soak in the solution for about 20 minutes.  You may see a white film rise to the top – this is pesticide being lifted from the produce.  (Note: if your produce is something that will wilt, like lettuce, use cold water for this process.)
  2. Drain the sink and rinse your produce well under running water, if possible.
  3. Take a clean cloth and scrub the outside of the fruit of vegetables.  If you can still see a film on them, clean out your sink with vinegar and repeat the process.

To conclude, when emergencies occur, they can disrupt the power supply long enough to threaten our perishable food investment and cause illness. Although a non-refrigerated food supply for emergency purposes is strongly advocated, we will want to find ways to save our perishable goods. Using the suggestions and tips provided will help you preserve and protect your perishable food sources and maintain sanitation during times of power disruptions.