What food is safe during a power outage?

The power is out, what to do? Hurricane Sandy has left many Americans without power and as electricity companies work to get power restored, your probably left sitting in the dark, bored, and wondering which foods in your hurricane survival kit are safe to eat sans refrigeration. Even if you haven’t lost power, have gotten power back or are still waiting for it, running the risk of a foodborne illness from spoiled foods is just not worth it. So, what do you need to know?

If power is out for 2 hours or less, refrigerated and frozen foods are still safe to consume. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible so food stays cold longer because when refrigerated or frozen foods become too warm, foodborne bacteria can grow. Rule of thumb: a freezer that is half full will hold food safely for 24 hours; a full freezer will hold food safety for 48 hours.

After 2 hours, food safety begins to be compromised.

• If you have coolers with ice, transfer milk, dairy products, meat, fish, eggs and leftovers and pack tightly.

• If you have a food thermometer, 40 degrees Fahrenheit is your number. Throw away any foods that have a temperature above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

• If it has been 2 hours and your refrigerator is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit there are some condiments and foods are safe. has a list of what to keep and what to toss HERE

Nonperishable Healthy Meal Options:

• Fruits: Apples, Avocado, bananas, citrus fruits, kiwi, mangoes, melons, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, Persimmons, pineapples, plantain, plums, pomegranates

• Vegetables: Cucumber, eggplant, garlic, ginger, jicama, onions, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, winter squashes

• Dried fruits

• Jerky (beef, turkey etc)

• Canned tuna and salmon

• Canned soups (if you have a gas stove)

• Canned vegetables (hearts of palm and artichokes)

• Canned beans (chickpeas are great tossed in tuna)

• Nut butters

• Whole wheat crackers and breads

• Whole grain cereals

• Pasteurized low fat and skim milk (Parmalat), powdered milk

For those rummaging through their pantries, here are other food safety tips for items you may already own:

What do the dates stamped on food products mean?

The three most common dates are Sell-By Date, Use-by Date, and Expiration Date.

Sell-by Date: Sell-by Date refers to the last day a retailer can display a product for sale; typically a food is safe to eat for 10 days after the Sell-by Date if refrigerated properly.

Use-by Date: Use-by Date refers to the last day a product will maintain its optimum freshness, flavor, and texture. Beyond this date, the product begins to deteriorate although it is still edible.

Expiration Date: Expiration Date means what it says, if you haven’t used a product by this date- toss it.


Skim milk does tend to last a few days longer than regular milk.  According to research from Cornell University this is because some bacteria develops more slowly in skim milk.  The unsaturated fatty acids of whole milk cause compounds to break down and create rancid odors.  


Store-bought bread will typically last 5-7 days at room temperature, but can last 1-2 weeks in the fridge.

• Organic and fresh-baked bread do not contain preservatives, so they typically won’t keep as long as commercially packaged breads.

• If your bread has gone stale it does not mean that it has expired.  In fact, the staleness means that it has been depleted of moisture, which makes it less likely to grow mold.  Try storing it in a plastic bag for extended shelf life.


• Snack foods contain preservatives in order to maintain shelf life.

• Different types of snacks have varying expiration dates:

 - Potato chips will last 2 months after purchase.
- Crackers and pretzels can last up to 9 months.
- One of the longest lasting snacks is popcorn, which has a shelf life of 1-2 years

• Packaged cookies can last 6-9 months.  

• There is a myth that Twinkies can last upward of 50 years.  However, this is urban legend.  Twinkies can last for a lengthy 25 days without packaging, because dairy products are not a part of the recipe.  After 25 days a Twinkie does not spoil, but loses some of its taste and flavor.

Canned Goods

• Canned goods typically have an Expiration Date.

• Low-acid canned foods such as vegetables like peas or carrots can last anywhere from 2-5 years.

• High acid canned foods such as citrus fruits, pickles, or tomatoes can last 12-18 months.

• Make sure to store your cans in the dark, because light can accelerate natural chemical reactions.

• If your can is bulging or has a dent- throw it out as this may be a sign of food-borne illness.  


• Beverages typically have Use-by Dates.

• Many water bottles have a 2-year Use-by date printed on them.  However, as long as the bottle stays unopened it is safe to drink.

• Bottled water does not contain nutrients, so the pathogens that cause food-borne illness can’t grow.

• Once a bottle of water has been opened it should not be kept for more than 2 weeks.

• Soda has a storage time of 9 months after the date on the package, after that the color and flavor might change but the beverage will be safe for consumption.

• Beer can last 4-6 months, in most cases after this time it will be safe to consume but the flavor will be off.


The shelf life of spices varies dramatically depending on the particular spice. For example, pepper will last two to three years while salt lasts indefinitely.

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.

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