Is Your Kitchen Prepared for a Power Outage?

It's good to know how long food lasts, what to keep on hand and more.

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Candles on a table; Shutterstock ID 719781571; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH Power outage

It happens all the time—the power goes out because of rough weather or an accident. Next time you’re in the dark, here are some expert tips and tricks to make sure your kitchen is ready and your family stays safe.

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young man searching for food in fridge at home

Know the rules for food safety

Having the power go out unexpectedly is frustrating. But when a power outage is less than two hours, don’t be concerned about losing your perishable foods, says Greta Gustafson, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. (Just keep the refrigerator closed!)

Here’s what temperature your refrigerator should be set at.

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Hand Crank Radio stations
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Keep gadgets on full battery

For longer power outages, Gustafson recommends that you plan ahead. Keep a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA Weather Radio to stay in the loop on weather, like hurricanes or blizzards. Keep your devices charged up during storms, too. In addition, Gustafson says it doesn’t hurt to keep extra coolers on hand and a digital thermometer to check the internal temperature of food.

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Gasoline Portable Generator on the House Construction Site.
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Purchase a portable generator

Portable generators power key items depending on the power needed,” explains Art Aiello, a generator expert at Generac. In an emergency, you start the generator and run extension cords to appliances like refrigerators, chest freezers and more.

Here’s how long a chest freezer and upright freezer stay frozen without power.

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Frozen food in the refrigerator.
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Eat your refrigerated food first

An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about four hours, says Gustafson. First, use the perishable food (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) from the refrigerator. Then use food from the freezer. “A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours if the door remains closed; 24 hours if half full,” she says.

Perishable foods should have a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to be safe to eat. Use a food thermometer to check before eating. If the power outage looks to continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.

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Objects useful in emergency situations such as natural disasters.
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Have non-perishables on hand

Sophie Kaemmerle, communications manager for Neighbor Who, is an expert on home and neighborhood safety. She says homeowners should always have a few days’ supply of non-perishable food stocked away. “Should a power outage occur, you will be joined by many others rushing to the store to get food for the next few days,” Kaemmerle says. “It’s a hassle to navigate the stores during these times and sometimes you may find the shelves empty.”

Canned food, peanut butter and assorted snack foods will help you get through a few days with no means of cooking, she says. Use these tricks to keep a well-stocked pantry.

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Use technology for help

Download the Red Cross Emergency app. This free app provides information on what to do before, during and after a power outage—and numerous other emergencies—to stay safe. It also provides real-time weather and disaster alerts for your location, making it easier to stay prepared.

Erica Lamberg
I have more than 15 years of writing and copywriting experience.  I write business and travel features, create copywriting for Coldwell Banker and write Web content for sites including USA Today's 10 Best, Fodor's Travel, Reader's Digest, Cruise Critic, Bankrate, Gannett, and others. I am based in Philadelphia.