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food safety

How Long Does It Take Food To Go Bad?

When there is no power to the fridge, it isn’t clear how much time you have to resolve the issue. Obviously, the more you open and close your refrigerator, the more cold air will escape, but if you don’t open it at all, how much time do you have before your food begins to spoil?

The USDA says that the average refrigerator will stay cold for only about four hours without power, if the doors remain closed. However, the amount of food you have in your refrigerator can make a very big difference. Air does not retain temperature very well, so the cold air will begin to warm rather fast. However, solid (and liquid) matter retains heat much more effectively meaning that the more food you have in your fridge the longer it will take to go bad.

Different foods will naturally spoil in different ways. Your frozen food should be your first concern. If meat or vegetables are frozen more than once, they may develop harmful bacteria. If ice cream starts to thaw, there is no point trying to freeze it again as the liquid will crystallize. You either need to eat it or throw it out. If you are planning to throw out freezer food anyway, consider moving it to the fridge instead. The extra cold from freezer food may help to extend the cold in fridge (but you will still need to throw out any thawed frozen food).

All refrigerated food should remain beneath 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent bacteria build up. Once the temperature exceeds this point, your food begins to run the risk of contamination. The most vulnerable food products in your fridge are those with high water content such as dairy, meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood.

First to Throw Out

Ideally, you want to have your refrigerator serviced within 6 hours of failure to avoid throwing out food.

After two hours above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or roughly 6 hours after power failure), FoodSafety.gov recommends discarding the following:

  • Meat, poultry, seafood (raw or cooked)
  • Gravy, stuffing, fish/oyster sauce, pizza, or anything containing meat or meat juice
  • Tofu
  • Eggs and egg products (raw or cooked)
  • Soft cheeses (blue/bleu, Roquefort, Brie, Camembert, cottage, cream, Edam, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella, Muenster, Neufchatel, queso blanco, queso fresco)
  • Shredded cheese
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Milk (cream, buttermilk, evaporated milk, eggnog, opened baby formula)
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Soy milk
  • Uncooked dough (bread, cookie, rolls, biscuits)
  • Cooked pasta, rice, or potatoes
  • Casseroles, soups, stews
  • Packaged vegetables, cooked vegetables, vegetable juice
  • Baked potatoes
  • Potato salad
  • Fresh cut fruit
  • Jarred garlic in oil
  • Custards and puddings
  • Cheesecake and cream pies
  • Cream-filled pastries
  • Creamy-based dressings (opened)
  • Marinara sauce (opened)

Second Round of Throw Outs

After eight hours above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, FoodSafety.gov recommends discarding opened jars of mayonnaise, tartar sauce, and horseradish

Safe to Keep

The following foods should be safe at room temperature for extended periods:

  • Bread (rolls, cakes, muffins, quick breads, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, bagels)
  • Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Colby, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, Romano)
  • Processed cheeses (i.e. Kraft American singles)
  • Fresh fruits
  • Fruit juices
  • Fruit pies
  • Raw vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Herbs and spices
  • Jelly, jam, preserves
  • Peanut butter
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Relish
  • Worcestershire, soy, taco, barbecue, and hoisin sauces
  • Olives & Pickles
  • Vinegar-based dressings