These must-read food safety tips will help keep your family safe if the power goes out.

Lisa Cericola
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If your power goes out from a storm, the entire contents of your refrigerator are in jeopardy. But how can you tell what’s safe to eat and what has to be tossed? Read on for what you should do before, during, and after a power outage.

How to prep before a storm:
If there is a serious threat of a power outage, take a few steps to keep food cold in case you lose electricity.

  • Have coolers and DIY ice packs on hand in case of a power outage. Make ice cubes and freeze them in ziplock freezer bags. Freeze plastic jugs or ziplock freezer bags full of water.
  • If there are items in the refrigerator that you won’t be eating immediately, transfer them to the freezer. Pack food tightly together; a full freezer will stay colder longer.
  • Keep appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer to monitor the temperature. The refrigerator should be 40 degrees or lower and your freezer should be 0 degrees, according to the USDA.
  • Stock up on canned goods that have a long shelf life and do not need refrigeration. For guidelines on how long canned food lasts, check out the USDA’s Shelf-Stable Food Safety guide.

What to do when the power goes out:
If you lose power, time is of the essence. Keep track of how long the power has been out and follow these guidelines:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible to keep food as cold as possible. A refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours if the door is left unopened. A full freezer will stay cold for about 48 hours if the door is closer.
  • Continue to check the refrigerator and freezer’s temperature. If it is below 40 degrees, the food is safe. Once it is above that temperature, discard any refrigerated perishable items like dairy products, meat, eggs, etc.
  • Transfer items from your refrigerator and freezer into an ice-packed cooler. Be sure to monitor the temperature of the food with a thermometer.
  • Check for ice crystals on frozen items; they are a sign that the food is safe to eat.
  • If you’re unsure of whether something is safe to eat, throw it away. Never taste something to determine whether it is safe or not. You will risk getting food poisoning. When in doubt, throw it out and refer to the USDA.