How long will food be okay in the fridge without power?

When power outages cause the lights to go out and the TV to shut off, it can be annoying. But an even bigger struggle begins when a loss of electricity starts to affect food in the fridge and freezer. 

If you're one of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost power this week, be aware before you open that refrigerator door. Keeping the doors closed can help keep food safe for a little while, but it won't last forever.

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And that could mean a fridge's worth of spoiled milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables. 

How long will food keep when the power goes out?

To answer this question, it depends if your doors are open or closed.

If the doors remain closed, the refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours. 

If a freezer is full, it will keep the temperature cool enough for approximately 48 hours. If it's half full, it'll stay cold for only about 24 hours. 

The Food and Drug Administration says adding a block of dry ice can keep a fully stocked refrigerator cold for two days. 

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Interior of a home fridge showing several groceries

What to eat when the power goes out

Your best friend during a power outage is the pantry since nonperishable foods can withstand months of waiting without going bad. 

Things like peanut butter, breakfast cereal, as well as canned fruits and vegetables that are low in sodium. Nuts, crackers, snack bars. Grains, beans, and overnight oats that mix with water the night before can also be good sources of energy and don't require preparation or refrigeration before consumption.

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If power is restored before the temperatures get too high, meals that include meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, should be thoroughly cooked to a safe internal temperature. That way, food-borne bacteria that may have grown can be destroyed. 

But if at any point the food was sitting above 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator for more than two hours, it should be thrown out. 

Tips to keep food cooler for longer

It'll require some preparation, but in times of an emergency, having food stay cooler for longer can go a long way. 

One of the best ways is to freeze some refrigerated items, like leftover milk and meat. 

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Grouping food together can also go a long way in retaining more cold temperatures in both the freezer and refrigerator. 

Having coolers with ice available can also help. That means having gel ice packs or bags of ice on hand. 

Dry ice or block ice can also keep things cooler for longer.