Power outages: What to do with fridge contents?

Une femme regarde le contenu de son réfrigérateur

Yesterday’s storm caused a power outage until dawn. Now it’s time for your morning coffee. Oops, wait a minute! How long has the fridge been off?

After an outage that long, some food could cause food poisoning. We’d really like to help you to avoid that! How about we look at the contents of your fridge to see what can be saved and what should be discarded? And who knows, maybe you’re entitled to submit a home insurance claim.

Food poisoning

Micro-organisms multiply more rapidly over 4°C. This means certain foods rot or become unsuitable for consumption. Sometimes it’s obvious due to bad odour or decaying texture, but that’s not always the case! So beware of getting food poisoning, which is not at all subtle!

What is the temperature in your fridge ?

The ideal temperature in your fridge is between 0 and 4°C. That is a perfect range for storing food safely and limiting the proliferation of micro-organisms.

That being said, without power, your fridge can’t stay cold for long. It can maintain its internal temperature for four hours if the door isn’t opened. If it’s filled to capacity, that can even be stretched to six hours.

But after that, please sort out your food. We, along with the ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (This hyperlink will open in a new tab) (French only) (MAPAQ), strongly recommend doing so!

And the freezer?

In the case of a stand-alone freezer that is filled to capacity, food will remain safe for up to 48 hours. If it’s half-full, contents are safe up to 24 hours. For freezer compartments of a fridge, food will unfreeze more quickly.

A tip

Install a thermometer inside your fridge! It’s a good way to know if the internal temperature is keeping your food safe to consume.

Discard or keep?

It’s temperature that determines what you should do.

In the fridge

If the outage lasted more than six hours:

The internal temperature is quite likely above 4°C. This means you should sort out your food.


  • Milk, cream, soft or creamy cheese
  • Non-pasteurized juices
  • Opened containers of vegetable juice, yogurt or baby formula
  • Eggs
  • Meats
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Leftovers containing cooked meat, poultry or fish
  • Fresh or cooked pasta
  • Prepared vegetables (in salads, soups, etc.) and cooked vegetables
  • Rotten or spoilt products

To find out more, see the table of foods to keep or discard posted on quebec.ca (This hyperlink will open in a new tab).

In the freezer

Again, it’s a question of temperature.

Throw out perishable foods that have completely thawed such as:

  • Meat and poultry
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Any other prepared food containing these foods, whether raw or cooked

If you are certain that the food remained at a temperature below 4°C, cook them right away and either consume them or refreeze them after cooking.

“What a waste,” you might say. At least you can re-freeze the following foods, even if they were completely thawed. But be sure their containers are intact.

  • Fruits
  • Pasteurized juices
  • Hard cheeses
  • Bread, cake and other baked goods

You can also re-freeze food that is partially thawed with frost on the surface, but only if the centre of the food is still hard.

Tips for reducing waste

  • Avoid opening the fridge and freezer during the outage. That way you maintain the internal temperature between 0 and 4°C for longer.
  • If the outage continues for a long time, see if family or friends have room in their fridges to store your food.
  • Does the power go out a lot in your area? Consider getting a generator.
  • Is it winter? Put your food in a cooler in the shade on your balcony or patio.

Home insurance claims

Can you file a claim? Usually this coverage is an add-on to basic coverage. Contact your insurance company to find out if your home insurance covers this type of loss. Prepare your claim ahead of time. Before calling, list and photograph the spoilt food.

And that ends the tour of your fridge! About  that morning coffee? We suggest black coffee or tea for today. Or you can always go to the corner café, if it was spared the power outage. We know you’re going to make the right choice between wasting food and getting food poisoning.