No power? Don't panic! Here's how long food can last in a fridge without power

Woman opening a silver refrigerator with a man stood next to her on an ipad.
(Image credit: Getty)

Storm surges, earthquakes or even heat waves are a few extreme weather scenarios that can cause power outages. This can cause several consequences around the home, but your mind will probably go to 'how long can food last in a fridge without power?' first. 

Whether you've just done a big food shop, you batch cook meals, or you simply hate waste, losing power (and subsequently, lots of food) can be a huge annoyance. In a bid to help you save as much food as possible, we've researched how long food can last in a fridge without power. This way, you can rescue as many groceries as possible and avoid any food-borne illnesses. 

Sometimes a fridge turning off can be a sign of a larger issue rather than a power outage, so we've run through a few easy ways to understand if you need to call in a professional. Even the best french door refrigerators (opens in new tab) can have problems, so read on for our top tips on what to do with your food if the power goes out. 

Lady with dark brown hair wearing a purple jumper with crossed arms, smiling at camera.
Mallory Micetich

Mallory Micetich is a home care expert at Angi (opens in new tab), with particular expertise in small home living and consumer protection. While currently renting in Denver, CO, she has been a homeowner, investor, landlord and renter over the last decade. She is committed to minimizing her environmental footprint and to small home living, having lived in only properties of 1,000 square feet or less. 

How long will a fridge stay cold without power for?

Luckily, a fridge losing power doesn't mean you should immediately panic. Your fridge has likely been at a lower temperature consistently, so it should take a while before it starts to warm up to a dangerous degree. 

Mallory Micetich, Home Expert at Angi, says, "When your power goes out, you’ll generally have four to six hours before food in your fridge could become unsafe to eat. Frozen food lasts a little longer, usually staying safe for up to 48 hours.

If you’re in hot weather, food will spoil quicker while in colder temperatures your food might stay safer for longer."

How to tell when food has gone bad

One of the challenges of a fridge losing power isn't just fixing it, but establishing whether food can be salvaged or not. You'll want to minimize food waste by trying to hold onto as much as possible - especially non-meat produce that won't spoil as quickly. Depending on how quickly you catch the power outage, some foods will be a lost cause. So, how can you tell when food has gone bad? 

The CDC (opens in new tab)(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that you should "throw out perishable food in your refrigerator (meat, fish, cut fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, and leftovers) after 4 hours without power." 

You should also "throw out any food with an unusual odor, color, or texture."

It's always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety, so if it's past the 4-hour mark or starting to smell funky, it's best to wave goodbye. 

How to prevent food from spoiling during a power outage

If the power outage comes as a surprise and you haven't had time to prepare, the main goal will be to preserve food for as long as possible. Mallory advises, "the best thing you can do is keep your fridge and freezer closed. You're letting cold air out whenever you open one of the doors.

If the outage is lasting a while or you’re really concerned about your food spoiling, you can fill a cooler with ice and transfer your food to the cold cooler. You’ll have to replenish your ice once you notice it melting, but it can help food last a little longer."

However, if you have had a warning for an emergency that could cause a power outage, then it's a good idea to put some measures into place to mitigate a potential food disaster as much as possible. The CDC (opens in new tab) recommends the following tips to help keep your food safe for as long as possible without a working fridge: 

Freeze containers of water and gel packs to help keep your food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit 

Keep a cooler or frozen gel packs handy in case you need to move your food from the refrigerator 

Buy dry ice or block ice to keep food cold in the refrigerator 

How to diagnose a fridge power issue

Not all power outages are caused by natural disasters, so it could be tricky to understand whether it's a momentary blip or a sign of a significant issue. If there's no obvious reason why the power has gone out, then it's always wise to first check the plug or fuse box to ensure there hasn't been a trip in the electricity. 

If this comes back clear, then you could have a more serious problem with the fridge on your hands. 

Mallory Micetich, Home Expert, says "Knowing the difference between a momentary power outage or a bigger issue with your fridge can be difficult. After a power outage, it can take around 24 hours for your fridge and freezer to return to a normal temperature but the best thing you can do is monitor your fridge after that period – if the fridge’s temperature is above 40℉, you might be experiencing a bigger issue. I recommend calling in a pro to take a closer look and diagnose the issue."

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Holly Cockburn

Holly is the Features Editor at Top Ten Reviews where she focuses on creating informative, how-to advice. She has a degree in English Literature and previously worked as a copywriter at Howdens, specializing in kitchens and trend-led interiors. When she’s not reading or writing, you can find her exploring the best London bars and brunch spots, or planning the next budget-friendly city break. 

With contributions from