Friday, July 19, 2019 - 2:31pm

How to Determine if Food is Safe to Eat

When the power has been out for a period of time, it is important to determine if perishable foods are safe to eat. Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) offers advice on how to determine the safety of perishable foods after a power outage.

"Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the safety of food after losing power for an extended period of time," says Doug Voegeli, Director of Environmental Health for PHMDC. "We always advise people, when in doubt, throw it out!"

PHMDC has the following guidelines for determining food safety after a power outage:

  • Refrigerated items are usually safe as long as the power is out no more than 4 to 6 hours, and the refrigerator was kept shut. Discard any perishable food that has been above 41° F for more than 2 hours (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • If you are unsure how long products have been held above 41ºF, or you do not have a food thermometer to check temperatures, discard the products.
  • Frozen foods will typically stay frozen in a closed freezer for up to 24 hours.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at an unsafe temperature, bacteria able to cause foodborne illness can begin to multiply very rapidly. Some types of bacteria will produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking and can possibly cause illness.
  • If the power has been out for only a few hours, it is generally ok to keep shelf- stable and less-perishable foods. (See link #1 to the right for a food chart) Raw, whole fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, nuts, hard and processed cheeses, most condiments, butter and margarine often keep for several days at room temperature. Toss food out, however, if it turns moldy or smells bad.
  • When the power is restored, allow time for the refrigerator to reach 41° F or below before restocking.


  • Doug Voegeli, (608) 243-0360