How Long Does Food Last in the Fridge Without Power?

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We all know that the unexpected can be waiting for us around the next corner, in part because of Murphy’s Lawwhatever can go wrong, will go wrong

One of these is a power outage that causes you to lose electricity for a little while. 

Not only does the temperature inside of your home start to get unbearable pretty quickly when this happens, but you also have to worry about the food in your refrigerator. 

So, how long does food last in the fridge without power? The answer is roughly 4 hours.

Of course, this time frame is just average because other factors come into play when you have a refrigerator full of food and the electricity goes out. 

These factors include the outside temperature, the size of your refrigerator, and how often you open and close the refrigerator door. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that four hours is the average, but that is only when the refrigerator door stays shut.

If you keep opening it, the time will be much shorter.

How Long Does Food Last In The Fridge Without Power Before the Food Is Spoiled?

foods inside fridge

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refrigerated food is only good for around four hours after either a power outage or after your refrigerator breaks. 

At that point, most of the food in your fridge will have to be discarded, though not all. In fact, as soon as the temperature inside of your home rises above 40° Fahrenheit, cold food immediately starts to go bad.

Naturally, indoor temperatures will rise quickly after a power outage.

Once the temperature of the food itself gets to around 40°, you only have a two-hour window to either cook it or return it back to a cold refrigerator or ice chest. 

Two hours is not a very long time.  If you’re in the middle of a power outage and you don’t know how long the outage is going to last. It’s best not to keep the food any longer.

If you decide to place your food in a chest filled with ice, this can help preserve the food a little longer; however, never keep food in an ice chest longer than 48 hours. 

When all is said and done, most foods have an “expiration” date, and you never want to keep food around longer than it is safe to do so.

What to Keep and What to Throw Out After a Power Outage

It can be a bit confusing determining what foods to keep and which ones to destroy when your power goes out, so here are a few general guidelines you can follow:

Foods you can discard immediately

perishable foods

Anything perishable such as meat, fish, eggs, or any leftovers, has to be discarded after four hours without power. 

If you’re unsure what to do with it, go ahead and throw it out. It’s much better to be safe than sorry. 

This includes foods such as anything labeled “keep refrigerated,” all soft cheeses such as Monterey Jack and mozzarella, baby formula, fresh fruits that have been cut, fresh or cooked vegetables that have been cut, and any type of custard or pudding.

Foods you can keep a bit longer

If you have any open jars of mayonnaise, tartar sauce, or horseradish sauce, you can keep it unless it’s been above 50° for eight hours or more. 

With these foods, you have a bit more time than other types of food. 

You can also keep hard cheeses such as Swiss, Parmesan, and cheddar, as well as peanut butter, jelly, ketchup, pickles, and bar-b-que sauce.

With rare exceptions, foods left in a refrigerator for four hours or longer after you lose power need to be discarded. 

If you keep them and eat them later on, there is a good chance you can get food poisoning. 

As anyone who has had food poisoning can tell you, this is not something you’re going to enjoy!

Also Read: Find out the best generators for the hurricane season that will keep your refrigerator running.

What to Do with Your Food After the Power Is Restored?

If you have thrown out what needs to be thrown out and kept the rest in an ice chest, you can start putting the food back into your refrigerator immediately after the power returns. 

Even foods that were in the freezer and have started to thaw can go back in the freezer. Speaking of your freezer, the rules for that section of the fridge are a little different.

If your freezer is full and the power goes out, the food will stay safe in there for 48 hours.

So if the power is only out for a few hours or even a day, you won’t need to worry about anything in your freezer going bad. 

If your freezer is only half-full or you’re opening the door a lot, you can cut that time in half because it will only be safe for around 24 hours.

Essentially, if the foods in your freezer still have ice crystals on them, feel cold, and are at 40° or below, you can simply put them back into the freezer. 

Fortunately, you don’t have to panic if you’re unsure what to do with a certain food, because all states have cooperative extension programs that you can either call or utilize their website to get your questions answered.

Oh, and one more thing – never taste the food to see if it’s alright to save. Bad news all around!

If it smells bad, however, go ahead and throw it out.

Preventative Action to Take in the Future

duromax generator

The most obvious solution to reducing the damages caused by a power outage is to buy yourself a generator. 

Generators are usually not very expensive, especially if you buy them on sale, but they can save you a ton of money in the long run – not to mention a lot of stress.

If you have a deep freezer, consider keeping a few bags of ice in there at all times.

That way, if the power goes out unexpectedly, you can put the ice in a small chest and at least save some of your cold foods from having to be thrown away.

Remember, in the event of a power outage your goal will be to reduce the amount of food you’re going to end up throwing away.

So taking some preventative action can greatly increase the odds of keeping much more food in the end.


As a general rule, food that is refrigerated will only last around four hours once the power goes out or your refrigerator breaks.

If you can, you should try to put as much food as possible into an ice chest filled with ice as soon as this happens. 

For the first 24 hours at least (and most power outages don’t last that long), you won’t have to worry about the foods in your freezer.

After four hours, you’ll have to go ahead and discard certain items, especially fresh foods or leftovers. 

While items such as most condiments and hard cheeses can be kept. If you have a generator, of course, all of this can be avoided. 

But your next best choice is to make sure you always have a few bags of ice on hand to place in an ice chest should this happen to you.

Anything to make it a little less stressful and less expensive for you!