How long will food and milk last in a refrigerator without power?
July 19, 2006 11:26 PM   Subscribe

How long will food and milk last in a refrigerator without power if I don't open the door?

We just had a major storm here in St. Louis and I'm currently one in half a million people without power nor a time table as to when it will be restored. (I'm posting from my sidekick) Unlucky for me, I just went shopping last night and now the freezer and fridge are stocked with food and milk. I've heard that it should keep cold for a long time if I don't open the doors, but I was wondering how long exactly will it keep the food and milk good? Thanks!
posted by rfbjames to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Consider your refrigerator to be a very good picnic cooler right now. A lot depends on the integrity of its seal and how new it is, and the ambient temperature of the room. My eyeball guesstimate would be about 24 hours.
posted by frogan at 11:32 PM on July 19, 2006

I'd just say go ahead and eat everything. Then again I am always looking for excuses to do that.
posted by shanevsevil at 11:54 PM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The USDA says 4 hours for the fridge but up to 24 hours for the freezer. More results here.
posted by vacapinta at 12:04 AM on July 20, 2006 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for the quick responses. Vacapinta, that is exactly the type info I was looking for and frogan it looks like your guess was pretty good.

shanevsevil, believe me I've thought about it. There is ICE CREAM in there! What a horrible tragedy to see it wasted....
posted by rfbjames at 12:24 AM on July 20, 2006

shanevsevil, believe me I've thought about it. There is ICE CREAM in there! What a horrible tragedy to see it wasted....

Ice cream? Clearly the only reasonable action is to eat it all immediately.
posted by delmoi at 1:04 AM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: Ouch my head....
Must keep eating before it all melts....
Ouch my head...
Must keep eating before it all melts...
Ouch my head...
posted by rfbjames at 1:19 AM on July 20, 2006

thanks vacapinta!
posted by matteo at 2:47 AM on July 20, 2006

If the storm did enough damge to necessitate filing an insurance claim, your homeowner's insurance will actually pay for food lost due to power outtages. Mine did when we were hit by a hurricane and without power for a week. There was a line for spoiled food on the claim form, so I think this is pretty standard practice.
posted by chickletworks at 4:09 AM on July 20, 2006

When I filed my claim after Katrina I could claim the food but not the refrigerator nor my stand alone freezer. I had to throw away both of them because nothing could get the stink out even after cleaning them out which I do not wish on my worst enemy because after 5 weeks it was well...I still have nightmares about it. But that was what got me. The fridge and freezer no but the food yes.
Sorry for the sidetrack...
posted by govtdrone at 5:23 AM on July 20, 2006

I'm also in St. Louis. When the power goes out, my usual trick is to buy large bags of ice and simply stuff them into the freezer and refrigerator. You'll want to put the bags of ice on a towel, then the towel and bag combination on the top shelf of your refrigerator, so that the denser, colder air from the bag of ice falls down onto the rest of your food. Dry ice will work, too.

There's a reason they used to call them "iceboxes"!
posted by adipocere at 6:23 AM on July 20, 2006

I'm from New Orleans, and based on past experience, Milk is good for at least a couple days in the fridge, provided you only rarely open the door. It's already been pasteurized, so as long as it doesn't taste bad, you're probably OK. Remember, they make yogurt at 30C.

It's actually a good thing your fridge is stocked, because that way it'll stay cold longer. Veggies are OK for a couple days, as are whole eggs. However, anything prepared with eggs or milk won't last more than a day. Sugary or salty sauces tend to inhibit microbial growth, so those things will last longer than watery prepared items. You should go ahead an cook or eat(however you can) anything in your freezer if you think the power's going to be out more than a day.

When you get to the point that your fridge is warm and smelly on the inside, throw everything out. You'll never be able to get the smell out if stuff decays in there, and you'll be without a fridge for weeks if everyone has to throw theirs out and the local stores can't restock fast enough.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:34 AM on July 20, 2006

I almost posted this question yesterday, in my case about some raw meat in my fridge that spent five hours without power. I'm sorry about your outage, rfbjames, but glad your better-stocked larder prompted you to seek an answer.
posted by Songdog at 7:41 AM on July 20, 2006

One of the things to remember about filing a claim for lost food is that your insurance company may drop you. I know it sounds silly, but it's happened to us.

We learned our lesson that $100 worth of food isn't worth being dropped or having our rates raised.
posted by zymurgy at 9:46 AM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: Just a quick update: I'm one of the lucky ones here who just got power back a couple of hours ago. I've been out with my girlfriend to see her best friend in the hospital who had a baby last night. Luckily the hospital has power but sadly the air conditioning went out today so that was quite a hassle...and they let her go home to her family's house who have power and air...

Hope the storm damage wasn't too bad where you live adipocere!

I can't even come close to imagining what those of you in New Orleans went through...this was a bad storm but certainly nothing compared to that...

To finally get back to my refrigerator, I ended up cleaning it out when I got back. Things had gotten bad because the power had been out a little over 24 hours...and oh the humanity the ice cream was melted...a little part of me died...

I had no idea I could file this on insurance, but I think I'll take zymurgy's advice and not go through the hassle. I live in an apartment so it would just be under my renter's insurance for the food. The one nice thing about living in an apartment is I don't have to file a claim for the upside down tree currently in front of my door...

I'll quit blabbing now, but can't say thanks enough for the advice everyone! This is why I love ask metafilter...
posted by rfbjames at 10:49 PM on July 20, 2006

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