08/26/2011 08:25 pm ET | Updated Oct 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Is Your Refrigerator Ready?

If you live on the East Coast, you're likely already preparing for Hurricane Irene's predicted attack. USDA is working with FEMA, along with the entire federal family, to support our state and territorial partners as Hurricane Irene continues to threaten the east coast, having already impacted Puerto Rico.

As you stock up on non-perishable food items in case you lose power, USDA encourages you to take the following steps to keep your food supply -- including items that are already in your refrigerator and freezer -- safe. The best strategy for you and your family is to always have a plan in place that everyone knows and that includes these food safety precautions.

Before a Weather Emergency Occurs:

  • Put appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer to help determine if food is safe during power outages. Refrigerator temperature should be 40° F or lower and the freezer should be 0° F or lower.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, fresh meat, and poultry that you may not need immediately -- this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case of power outage. You can also use melted ice for drinking water.
  • Purchase or make ice cubes and freeze gel packs in advance.
  • Plan ahead and know where to purchase block ice and dry ice, just in case.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep the refrigerator food cold in case the power is out for more than 4 hours.

If the Power Goes Out:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep the door closed.
  • A full freezer will keep its temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  • If the power is out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.

When the Power Is Restored:

  • Check the temperature in the refrigerator and freezer. If the thermometer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe.
  • If no thermometer was used in the freezer, check each package. If food still contains ice crystals, it's safe.
  • Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items) that have been kept in a refrigerator or freezer above 40° F for two hours or more.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety!
  • When in Doubt, throw it Out!

For more information check out the Food Safety and Inspection Service's fact sheet, Consumer's Guide to Food Safety: Severe Storms and Hurricanes, or listen to our podcast here. Follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter for food safety tips when a natural disaster occurs in your area.

Now is the time to be prepared if you live in a coastal area or could be affected by severe weather. Build your own emergency supply kit -- personalized with the non-perishable foods you like, your medications, personal documents. Visit or for tips on creating your family emergency plan and putting together an emergency supply kit.