Skip to main content

Post-storm power losses and flooding can lead to unsafe food

Media contact: Dr. Benjamin Chapman, 919-809-3205 or benjamin_

Hurricane Irene left many people across North Carolina without power – and with questions about food safety. When the power goes out, food that’s supposed to be kept cool in the refrigerator or freezer can grow harmful bacteria. Because unsafe food may not appear to be or smell spoiled, North Carolina Cooperative Extension offers these guidelines:

  • Don’t open your refrigerator or freezer unless you have to.
  • If the power failure lasts less than 4 hours, frozen or refrigerated foods remain safe to consume. But if the power stays out longer, either cook the food immediately or find other ways to keep it cold — put it on ice, for instance, or take it to someone who can refrigerate it. Otherwise, the food may not be safe to eat. Follow these guidelines:
    • Breads can be refrozen, as can fruits and vegetables that are still at or below 41 degrees.
    • Do not refreeze frozen dinners or other cooked foods that have thawed.
    • Discard any meat that has a questionable odor or that has been exposed to temperatures above 41 °F for two hours or longer.
    • Foods in a freezer without power may stay frozen from one to three days, depending on these conditions: 1) The door must remain closed. 2) The freezer must be full or almost full. 3) The temperature outside must be moderate. 4) The freezer must be large and well-insulated.
    • Dry ice can be put on boards or heavy paper and placed in the freezer on top of packages to keep temperatures below freezing. Allow 2.5 to 3 pounds of dry ice per cubic foot of space. More will be needed in an upright freezer, because dry ice should be placed on each shelf. Dry ice can cause burns; so don’t handle it with bare hands.
    • You may safely re-freeze foods that still contain ice crystals or that have been kept at 41° F or below.
    • Whole fruits, ketchup, mustard, pickles, relishes and non-dairy beverages have a longer shelf-life and won’t need to be thrown out.
    • If you have a question about the safety of any item, dispose of it.

Two PDF fact sheets from N.C. Cooperative Extension give detailed lists on different foods so that consumers can tell what’s safe in the refrigerator ( and the freezer (

-Dee Shore, 919-513-3117, 919-604-3164 or

NOTE: Cooperative Extension is a partner with other land-grant universities nationwide in the Extension Disaster Education Network, which offers myriad disaster preparedness, response and recovery information at

Cooperative Extension is an educational partnership of North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, county governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cooperative Extension has centers in all 100 North Carolina counties, and its programs focus on agriculture, natural resources, community and rural development, family and consumer sciences and 4-H youth development.

For contact information for your Cooperative Extension county center, see