At what point does food spoil after an outage?

If you lost power after recent storms, you may have been debating what to do about the food in your refrigerator and freezer.

It's a question of assessing the damage using standard food safety guidelines and common sense.


Food starts to spoil when the temperature rises above 40 degrees. After food warms to that temperature, you have just two hours in which you can either return it to cold conditions or cook it.

In the fridge, produce will survive most power failures, but dairy products should be discarded if they smell or taste sour.


The contents of a chest freezer will usually keep for 48 hours, if you don't open the freezer to check. Spoilage comes just 10 to 12 hours after a power failure in the freezer section of a refrigerator.

Here are some general rules for deciding what's safe when the power comes back on:

* If food in the freezer is hard in the middle, has ice crystals on the outside or is very cold to the touch, you can safely refreeze it.

* In the refrigerator, low-acid foods are most likely to go bad. These are likely to be combinations of vegetables and meat: Toss out casseroles, pasta and potato salads or soups. Forget about the leftovers; toss 'em. Condiments should be safe because of high sugar and salt content.

* If power has been restored but you're unsure of what's spoiled, keep it cold or refreeze. Then get specific advice from the Cooperative Extension office in your county (see county government listings in phone directory) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline, where home economists specialize in food safety. Call (800) 535-4555, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

* If in doubt, throw it out.