Don’t open the freezer if the power is out

Each time you open the freezer door while the power is, you increase the interior temperature and decreases the time foods will hold safely without power.

July 31, 2018 - Author: Lisa Treiber, Michigan State University Extension

Summer storms can knock out power to your freezer in a flash, someone can accidentally unplug your freezer or maybe the reliable appliance ran out of steam and decided to quit. Regardless the situation, food safety has to be carefully considered when these problems arise.

Curiosity during a power outage may have us opening the door checking on the freezer, but if possible, avoid this practice. Each time the door opens, it increases the interior temperature and decreases the time foods will safely last without power. In most cases, a full or nearly full chest-type freezer, will hold well for 24 hours or longer. If the power has been off for less than 24 hours, do not open the door, instead when the power resumes, let items refreeze for at least 24 hours before opening the door. If the power has been out longer, you will need to survey the situation and make decisions, based on the temperature of the freezer once the power resumes.

Conditions that can decrease the time the freezer will hold safely include:

  • Any door opening during the power outage, especially with an upright model.
  • High room temperatures (above 85 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • The initial freezer temperature was above zero degrees.
  • The freezer was less than half-full.

Where the freezer is located can also make a difference in how it operates. The best location for a separate freezer is a cool, dry room. Keep the freezer at least two inches away from walls and allow circulation room above. An unattached garage is not recommended, as they may become too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

Tips to be better prepared in the event of a power outage include:

  • Keep the freezer stocked with “solid” foods such as meats or soups. Breads and baked goods will not retain the cold as well if the power goes out.
  • If your freezer is half-full, fill two to three gallon milk jugs with water, leaving two inches of head space for expansion. Place in different corners of the freezer. Once frozen they will help keep a less than full freezer colder for longer and also keep the freezer from working so hard when the power is on.
  • Keep appliance thermometers in all of your freezers. This will help you determine what can be salvaged if thawing has happened. A thermometer is the only reliable tool to give accurate readings.

Thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below. Partial thawing and refreezing may affect the quality of some food, but the food will be safe to eat. tells us to never taste food to determine its safety. You cannot rely on appearance or odor to determine whether it is safe or not to consume. Remember harmful bacteria cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. The link provided gives a chart of specific foods and tips on foods that can be saved and foods that need to be discarded after a power outage.

Michigan State University Extension recommends consumers to follow the adage “when in doubt, throw it out” rather than risk a case of foodborne illness.  Take precautions to keep you and your family food safe.

Tags: food & health, msu extension, safe food & water

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