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Are you ready for an emergency?

Food worker reading emergency plan book.

Emergency preparedness, crisis management and disaster planning are common terms that conjure up pictures of unpleasant situations. As much as we don’t want to think about situations like power outages, floods, fire or water disruption, it’s a fact of business to plan and prepare for the unexpected. There are resources available to help you plan for the unexpected.

Food safety during power outages in food establishments

Follow these recommendations for food safety during a power outage of more than 2 hours. The goal of these recommendations is to protect consumers from unsafe food and minimize product loss.

When there is a power outage:

  • Note the time the power outage begins.
  • Discontinue all cooking operations.
  • Don't place hot food in refrigerators or freezers as this will rapidly raise the temperature inside the unit and may make more food unsafe.
  • Discard food products that are in the process of being cooked but which have not yet reached the final cooking temperature.
  • Use ice or ice baths to rapidly cool small batches of hot food.

Maintain proper temperatures

Refrigerated potentially hazardous food must be stored at or below 41 F.

Food in refrigerators should be safe as long as the power is out no more than four to six hours. Leave the door closed; every time you open it, needed cold air escapes causing the foods inside to reach unsafe temperatures. Discard any potentially hazardous food that has been above 41 F for four hours or more.

Frozen foods must be maintained frozen

  • Leave the freezer door closed.
  • A full freezer should keep food safe about two days.
  • A half-full freezer should keep food safe about one day.
  • Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer if it appears the power will be off for an extended time.
  • You can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals and are 41 F or lower.

Caution: the use of dry ice may result in the unsafe build-up of carbon dioxide.

Hot cooked potentially hazardous food must be maintained at 140 F or higher.

Maintain hot potentially hazardous food at 140 F or higher. Food that has reached final cooking temperature may be kept hot (140 F) by use of canned heat in chafing dishes.

When in doubt, throw it out!

If it appears that power will be off for more than six hours, you can keep potentially hazardous foods at 41 F or lower by:

  • Using ice, dry ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Moving refrigerated food to a walk-in freezer.
  • Obtaining a refrigerated truck.

Food should not be transferred to private homes. And if there’s any question about the safety of the food, throw it out! Read the MDH fact sheet, food safety during power outages in food establishments for more information.

    Kathy Brandt, Extension educator and Deb Botzek-Linn, former Extension educator

    Reviewed in 2018

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