February 26, 2019/Nutrition

Which Foods From Your Fridge to Toss (and Which to Keep) After a Power Outage

"Better safe than sorry" applies here

Man looking in refrigerator to find unspoiled food after power outage

When a wild storm rolls through town and knocks out your power, you might be fretting about your fridge full of food (among other things).


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Of course, you just went to the grocery store! Will everything you just bought go bad?

First things first – resist the urge to open up the refrigerator and check on whatever’s in there. A refrigerator will stay cooler longer if it’s kept closed.

If you are going to open it, do so to move perishable things that freeze well – like fresh meat or poultry or leftovers from last night’s dinner – into the freezer, where they’ll stay at a safe temperature for longer.

The four-hour rule

If the power is out for less than four hours and you’ve been able to keep your paws off of the fridge, your grocery haul should be just fine.

However, if the power’s out for longer than that, or if you don’t know how long it’s been out, you’ll need to make some judgment calls.


According to the FDA and USDA, certain perishable foods that have been kept at a temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours should be thrown out. This includes meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, dairy products, eggs, cooked or cut produce, and cooked leftovers.

“In the warmer temperatures, bacteria that make you sick are more likely to grow,” says Lindsay Malone, MS, RD, CSO, LD, the Manager of Nutrition Services for the Center for Functional Medicine. “That could range from a stomach ache or running to the bathroom to a more serious foodborne illness.”

So when the power does come back on, check the temperature of your refrigerator. If it’s still below 40 degrees, you’re in the clear. If it’s above 40 degrees and you suspect it’s been that way for more than two hours, it’s time for a clean out.

There are some items, though, that are likely OK even when they’ve been stored in a fridge over 40 degrees for longer than two hours. These include:

  • Hard cheeses
  • Butter or margarine
  • Opened fruit juices or canned fruits
  • Many spreads including peanut butter, jelly, relish, ketchup and mustard
  • Many sauces including barbecue, Worcestershire and opened vinegar-based salad dressings
  • Bread
  • Uncut raw vegetables and fruits

If you’re unsure about how long the power has been out or about the temperature of your refrigerator, check to see if any of the food feels lukewarm to the touch. Whether the ice cubes in your freezer are still frozen can also give you an indication of how quickly the temperature has risen.


“But if you’re in doubt at all, throw it out – it’s just not worth the risk,” Malone says. Anyone whose immune system is weakened, like babies, seniors or people undergoing cancer treatment, are at a greater risk for illness and may require a higher level of caution, she adds.

As for your frozen goods? A full freezer will keep a safe temperature for up to two full days (or one day if it’s less full).

Keep your stash safe

If you know a storm is about to blow in, there are a few things you can do in advance to protect your perishable items:

  • Check to see if your refrigerator has a thermometer. If it doesn’t, purchase an appliance thermometer to keep in there.
  • Group foods together in the fridge and freezer to keep them colder longer – but keep raw meat and poultry separate to prevent contamination if it thaws and leaks.
  • Keep several gallons of safe drinking water in the freezer. This will help keep food cold and also provide backup in case your water supply is compromised.
  • Keep nutrient-dense, non-perishable items on hand for eating: nuts and seeds, dried fruit, whole grain cereal, and jarred or canned fruits and vegetables.

If you’re forced to throw out a lot of food after a storm, Malone recommends checking to see if your renters or homeowners insurance covers spoiled food. “For many people it does, so it’s worth calling to ask,” she says.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

two kids eating snow outside
March 6, 2024/Nutrition
Is It Safe To Eat Snow?

If the flakes are undisturbed, pristine white and come from the top layer, it’s typically safe to indulge in a scoop

Raw hamburger patties separated by deli paper sitting on wooden cutting board.
May 23, 2023/Nutrition
Has My Ground Beef Gone Bad?

Color, texture, smell and expiration date all hold important clues

An avocado sliced in half with pit showing in one half, positioned on white marble with a sliced lemon in the background.
May 10, 2023/Nutrition
How to Safely Store Avocados (No Water Required!)

Warning: A popular TikTok hack to extend the life of avocados could lead to food poisoning

Two pieces of leftover pizza sitting in a pizza box.
December 4, 2022/Nutrition
Is It Safe To Leave Pizza Out Overnight?

No! Be sure to put your leftovers in the fridge

Thanksgiving dinner leftovers on a plate ready to eat.
November 18, 2022/Diet, Food & Fitness
How To Store Your Thanksgiving Leftovers Safely

Don’t let any turkey or stuffing go to waste this year!

Canned foods.
November 10, 2022/Nutrition
Should I Avoid Shelf-Stable or Packaged Foods?

Not all processed foods are bad, but the fewer the ingredients, the better

Person eating raw fish.
October 9, 2022/Wellness
Is Raw Fish Safe? What To Know Before You Eat

For most healthy people, raw fish is safe, but following safety guidelines is key

Homemade canning of assorted vegetables displayed on a natural wooden table.
October 6, 2022/Wellness
Buying Food Online Is Convenient, but Is It Safe? What Experts Say

Check reviews, check labels and double check packaging

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey