Preparing Your Refrigerator for a Power Outage

Are you at risk for an electrical outage? Several cities on the American east coast have lost electricity because of summer heat waves. My local electric company has warned that it will turn off the power for short periods  in rotating areas throughout the summer, since it can’t keep up with the expected demand. Coincidentally, our power went off for 4 hours this morning, without notice, while the electric company worked on the power lines down the street. Planning for an electrical outage, whether or not you have advance warning, can help save money and aggravation. A freezer full of food can cost several hundred dollars, or more, to replace.

Below are tips to help keep your food cold and fresh while the electricity is off.

  • If you know about the outage in advance, lower the temperature setting on your refrigerator and freezer. If your refrigerator gets too cold, though, the fruits and vegetables might freeze.
  • Fill jugs or bottles of water and place them in the freezer wherever you have empty space. This saves electricity year-round, and the ice will help maintain the freezing temperature during an outage. When you need the freezer space again, remove the  bottles but keep them handy for next time.
  • If you have time, freeze extra bottles and place in your refrigerator before a planned outage.
  • Resist temptation–don’t open the refrigerator or freezer during an outage. Keep some foods available at room temperature. This morning we ate bread, tuna, tomatoes and peanut butter. We drank tap water.

When your power goes back on:

Give the food a chance to get cold again before opening the refrigerator or freezer. And sometimes the power goes off again after only a few minutes.

  • If the power has gone off only for a few hours, your food is almost certainly safe. But be sure to check each item, and use up perishables quickly.
  • Cooked food that has defrosted can be refrozen as long as it is still good, but the quality won’t be the same.
  • Raw foods, like meat, poultry and fish, should not be refrozen once defrosted as it has probably attracted large amounts of bacteria. If the food is still partially frozen or has ice crystals, you can safely refreeze it.
Have you had an electrical outage lately? Share your experience in the comments!
Note: A shorter version of this post appeared in August, 2009.
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How Thermostats Work

Three Reasons We Throw Away Food


  1. Interesting. if there’s any consolation, it’s that you are getting warned. Just today I started thinking that if I make and freeze 1 or 2 things for the chagim each week, I’d be in good shape. However, I do fear unexpected power outages when I have a lot in the freezer.

  2. I hear you. On the other hand, the holidays are not so far away at all.

  3. Correction: Hannah, the holidays are far, far away – at least three months after my son’s Sept. 1 bar mitzvah 🙂