Power Outages Create Food Safety Concerns

Armen Hareyan's picture

Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) has issued several food safety guidelines to aid Kentuckians left without electricity after a series of powerful storms and tornadoes swept through the state early Wednesday morning.

DPH staff recommends keeping freezers closed to maintain the proper temperature for frozen foods. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours and for 24 hours if the freezer is half full.

DPH cautions that a refrigerator will only hold its temperature for about four hours meaning food items such as milk, dairy products, meats, eggs and leftovers should be placed in a cooler surrounded by ice if the outage lasts for more than four hours. Dry ice can be used to keep refrigerators cold. If the outage lasts for several days, 50 pounds of dry ice should preserve food in an 18-cubic foot full freezer for two days. (You must be careful when handling dry ice. Never touch dry ice with bare hands or breathe its vapors in an enclosed area. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, a gas).

"Horrible situations like this one emphasize the need for emergency preparedness in the home," said William Hacker, M.D., DPH commissioner and acting undersecretary for health at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "Food that is improperly stored or handled can lead to foodborne illness, which can be incredibly debilitating and in some cases life threatening."


If left without power, purchase one or more coolers, ice and a digital, dial or instant-read food thermometer, DPH recommends. Public health guidelines also recommend keeping appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer, no matter long the power has been out. The refrigerator temperature should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below; the freezer should be 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

"If you are not sure a particular food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer," said Hacker.

DPH recommends limiting the opening of freezer and refrigerator doors, even if an appliance has been out but returns to function within a couple of hours. If the freezer is not full, DPH strongly advises that poultry and meat items be grouped away from other foods to prevent juices from contaminating other items.

When the refrigerator and/or freezer are operating again, follow these guidelines to decide what to do with foods: