B.C. windstorm: What you need to know about food storage in a power outage

WATCH ABOVE: A massive cleanup effort is underway in southern British Columbia after the region was hit by the strongest windstorm in nearly a decade. Robin Stickley reports.

More than 170,000 BC Hydro customers who were still without power a day after strong winds battered southern parts of the province on Saturday.

Those still in the dark may be getting concerned about food stored in fridges and freezer.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) warns that an unopened fridge will keep food cold for about four hours. That’s not really a relief to people who haven’t had electricity for more than 24 hours.

But, here are a few things you should know about food safety in a power outage.

What do you need to get rid of?

It’s probably too late to save those steak or chicken wings you may have been saving for a Sunday evening barbecue. Any food that spoils quickly and has been stored above 4 C for two or more hours should be tossed.

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That includes:

  • raw, thawing and leftover meat, poultry and seafood — including processed meat products such as hot dogs, sausages and cold cuts
  • any canned meat or seafood that has been opened
  • leftover pizza with meat toppings
  • any items that have come in contact with raw meat juices
  • fresh eggs, hard-boiled eggs in shell, egg products and dishes
  • salads containing meat, chicken, egg or seafood, as well as potato salad and pasta salads containing mayonnaise or vinaigrette
  • casseroles, soups and stews
  • gravy, stuffing and broth
  • milk (dairy and soy), cream, yogurt, sour cream and cream-filled pastries
  • baby formula
  • soft cheeses like brie, Edam, Camembert, cottage cheese and cream cheese, shredded cheese
  • cut fresh fruits, pre-cut and pre-washed packaged greens, opened vegetable juice, cooked vegetables (including potatoes) and tofu
  • leftover cooked pasta and rice, fresh pasta and open containers of pasta sauce
  • opened fish sauce and oysters sauce (but Worcestershire, soy, hoisin and barbecue sauces should be fine)
  • opened mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish that has been left above 10 C for eight hours or longer

(Source: CFIA and

READ MORE: Safety tips for buying and storing your fresh food and leftovers

What to do about food in your freezer

If you have a fully packed freezer, your food may stay frozen for up to 48 hours, according to the CFIA. But if your freezer is only half full, expect your food to have thawed within 24 hours. If you can, buy bags of ice to keep the food at a safe temperature.

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If you had thawed food in your fridge that still feels “refrigerator cold” and/or still has ice crystals, the CFIA says it can be re-frozen.

What food is safe to keep if the power goes out?

The good news is that some items you normally keep in your fridge will last longer if the power goes out.

Those items include:

  • ketchup, mustard, relish, pickles and olives
  • peanut butter and jam
  • butter and margarine
  • bread, rolls, tortillas, cakes and muffins (but throw out cookie, biscuit and roll dough)
  • fruit pies (but toss out custard, cheese-filled or chiffon pies, quiche and cheesecake)
  • raw fruits and vegetables, including fresh mushrooms
  • opened canned fruits and fruit juices
  • grated parmesan or Romano (or combined) cheese in a can or jar
  • hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Swiss, Colby and provolone
  • processed cheeses
  • opened vinegar-based dressings (but, get rid of opened creamy dressings)


READ MORE: Fridge vs counter: How to store fresh food properly

What do you do if you’re unsure about the safety of your food?

The main rule to follow: when in doubt, throw it out. Just because you can’t visibly see or smell some items spoiling, it doesn’t mean they’re safe to eat.

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If any raw food has leaked in your fridge, the CFIA says to make sure you clean and disinfect the area before putting anything back in that area, and don’t reuse that cloth until it has been disinfected and washed in hot water.