Food Safety: Before, During and After the Power Goes Out

By Rachel Begun, MS, RD

With the devastation and bounty of power outages from Superstorm Sandy still fresh in our minds, this post is about the importance of food safety during prolonged power disruptions.

While foodborne illness may not be the homeowner’s highest priority in such circumstances, it should be at the top of the list. Why?  Because food poisoning  causes an estimated 48 million illnesses (1 out of 6 Americans), 128,000  hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States, a good portion of which are generated from food prepared and eaten at home.*

Before a Storm Hits, Be Prepared

  • Make sure the refrigerator is set to below 40 ºF.
  • Purchase a large cooler and ice packs so refrigerated foods can be kept at cold temperatures during long power outages.
  • Stock up on non-perishable, nutrient-dense foods that don’t require refrigeration.   Single serving sizes are ideal, so unused portions requiring refrigeration don’t go to waste.   Gluten-free foods to purchase include:
  1. Gluten-free breads, crackers, cereals and instant oatmeal packets (for those with gas stoves)
  2. Gluten-free energy bars, dried fruits and nuts, and trail mixes
  3. Fruits and vegetables that can withstand no refrigeration, such as apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, tomatoes, carrots, celery as well as canned fruits and vegetables (preferably with no added sugars or sodium)
  4. Shelf-stable protein sources, including canned tuna and salmon, peanut and almond butters, nuts and canned beans (unused portions have to be refrigerated, so use in one sitting)
  5. Shelf-stable dairy foods, including single-serve packages of milk and non-dairy “milks,” and dried powdered milk

While Power Is Out, Keep Foods at Safe Temperatures

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible, opening only when necessary and just for the amount of time needed to remove/replace items.
  • Foods in the refrigerator should stay safe for up to four hours without power, opening the door only when necessary.
  • With the doors remaining closed, a full freezer will stay at freezing temperatures for two days and a half-full freezer for one day.

Once Power is Restored, Check the Temperature of Your Refrigerator and Freezer

  • If the temperature of either has risen above 45 ºF, discard all food with the potential to spoil, such as meats, poultry, fish, dairy and dairy products, eggs and egg-containing products such as custards, puddings and ice cream, and cooked beans, rice and pasta dishes.
  • Do not re-stock until the temperature has fallen to below 40 ºF.
  • If you are ever in doubt, throw it out!

Superstorm Sandy raised a red flag with respect to the need for specifically donating gluten-free foods to those in crisis. For those of us in the position to help our gluten-free friends in need, click here to learn how you can donate gluten-free foods now and in the future.


Rachel Begun, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.   She provides education, communications and consulting services to health organizations and the food industry. She also educates the public via speaking opportunities, online activities and writing for publications, including her own blog, The Gluten Free RD.   You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest via her website at  

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness offers website visitors weekly recipes and blogs about living the gluten-free lifestyle. For more information about celiac disease and gluten-free living, visit

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness offers website visitors weekly recipes and blogs about living the gluten-free lifestyle. For more updates from NFCA about celiac disease and gluten-free living, go to
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness

Latest posts by National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (see all)