When The Power Goes Out: A Guide For Food Operators

  • A copy of the brochure, When the Power Goes Out: A Guide for Food Operators, is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese in Portable Document Format (PDF).

A power outage can:

  • Hurt your business
  • Cause inventory losses
  • Disrupt normal routines
  • Cause health problems for your customers

During a prolonged outage, follow these guidelines to either store or discard items.

Potentially Hazardous Foods

Bacteria grow readily at temperatures above 41°F/5°C in many foods, and can make customers ill. The foods that can cause illness if not stored below 41°F/5°C, are considered Potentially Hazardous Foods.

  • Meat, poultry, seafood
  • Cold cuts, hot dogs
  • Eggs
  • Cream, sour cream, yogurt, milk
  • Custards, puddings
  • Soft cheeses, shredded cheeses, low-fat cheeses
  • Cooked vegetables, cooked potatoes, potato salad
  • Cut fresh fruits
  • Cooked pasta, rice, pasta salads
  • Casseroles
  • Unbaked cookie and bread dough
  • Gravy
  • Creamy salad dressings, fish sauces, hoisin sauce, opened spaghetti sauce
  • Garlic in oil

These Potentially Hazardous Foods, if not maintained at the proper temperature, must be discarded. See the tables for information on preserving refrigerated food, frozen food and hot food in service.

"Safe" Foods

Some food items are safe to use or sell, even if held above 41°F/5°C. These include:

  • Bread, rolls, cakes, muffins, bagels, pancakes, waffles.
  • Hard and processed cheese that are well wrapped, grated parmesan and romano cheeses
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Uncut fresh fruit
  • Peanut butter, jams and jelly
  • Relish, mustard, ketchup, olives
  • Margarine
  • Taco, barbecue and soy sauce
  • Vinegar based salad dressings
  • Herbs, spices

Ice Machines, Coffee Brewers, etc.

  • Disconnect your ice machine and other appliances with direct water connections to prevent potential contamination from untreated water if you have an onsite water supply or have been notified that your public water supply is unsafe.
  • Use the ice you have to chill products.
  • Don't store food or drink items in the ice machine. Food particles can easily contaminate your ice machine. Remove ice to a cooler or other container.

Power Return Checklist

  • Discard any food that you are not 100% certain is safe. Keep a record of your discarded items for your insurance company.
  • Throw away any suspect food items, according to the guidelines in this brochure. Carefully check the condition of your stock. If you are unsure how long the power was out, discard potentially hazardous foods.
  • If you have an on-site water supply, ensure your water is safe. If you have a well with a chlorination system, check that your system is running; the chlorination unit may need priming. Check the chlorine residual to ensure your water system is functioning correctly.
  • Clean and sanitize the facility and any equipment left out when the power failed. Make sure all cleaning and sanitizing steps are taken!
  • Clean and sanitize the ice machine. Do not reconnect it until your water source is safe.
  • Make sure that you are ready to open. Make new plans for the next power outage while the lessons are fresh in your mind. Train staff on new procedures.

Check food temperatures often. If you have any question about the safety of a food item, throw it out!

Food Temperature Checklists

  • Hot Food in Service

    Hot Food Temperatures
    Hot Above 135°F/57°C 135°F -120°F/57°C – 49°C 120°F/49°C and below
    Okay to use or sell Cool to 70°F/21°C within 2 hours....

    ...and then cool down to less than 41°F/5°C within an additional 4 hours...

    ...or discard

    Do not use - discard
    • Stop preparation of food items immediately if the power goes out.
    • Keep hot foods already in service above 135°F/57°C.
    • Do not put hot items in a non-working cooler. The hot items will not cool and the items in the cooler will get warmer. Cool with ice or by other means.
  • Refrigerated Food

    Refrigerated Food Temperatures
    Below 41°F/5°C Above 41°F/5°C
    for less than 2 hours
    Above 41°F/5°C
    over 2 hours or for unknown time
    Okay to use or sell Cool to less than 41°F/ 5°C within 2 hours Discard Potentially Hazardous Foods
    • Minimize opening and closing the refrigerator doors. Each time you open the door, the temperature in the cooler goes up.
    • Place ice or reusable ice packs near the food.
    • Do not allow standing water from melted ice to accumulate, as this may become a health hazard. Drain water from melted ice.
    • Dry ice requires special handling precautions. See our Using Dry Ice fact sheet.
  • Frozen Food

    Frozen Food Temperatures
    Thawed, with ice crystals Thawed completely
    below 41°F/5°C
    Thawed above 41°F/5°C
    Okay to use Or sell

    Okay To refreeze

    Okay To use Immediately

    Do not refreeze

    Do not use - discard
    • Keep freezer doors closed. Food in an unopened freezer should be safe for a day.
    • Preserve frozen foods longer by using dry ice (see the Using Dry Ice fact sheet for specific tips).
    • Refreezing partially thawed food may affect food texture and quality.


For more information, contact your local health department.