What to Do with Food When the Refrigerator Goes Out

June 24, 2020

It’s always a hassle when your refrigerator goes out, be it from a storm or a unit that needs replacing. Howard’s has you covered with a guide for what to do when your refrigerator goes out in order to save your food.

open refrigerator with food

Knowing what to do when your refrigerator goes out is the difference between a house filled with spoiled food or one with well-preserved groceries. It's hard to tell when your unit may get knocked out of commission, but Howard's is here to help make the experience less stressful.

Why did my fridge go out?

Any manner of natural disasters from electrical storms to heavy winds -as well as human-made disasters- can knock out your refrigerator. Hopefully, it's short term, and the problem will resolve once the weather passes or the electrical company restores power. However, if the weather is fair and your unit is out, there are other issues to consider.

You may need a new refrigerator. Generally, refrigerators have a lifetime of 10-20 years, varying on the type, brand, and usage. If it is under seven years old, have a professional look into the issue. Replace a unit between 7-10 years if repairs cost more than half the value of the fridge. Any units ten years and older need replacement, as the repair costs will be higher, and it will likely have issues moving forward. Older units are also less efficient and cost more in monthly electrical billing.

Here are some signs your unit needs replacement or repairs:

  • Intermittent power outages
  • Unit is loud (refrigerators should run quietly)
  • Excessive heat from the back of the unit (new coils needed)
  • Interior wall damage (very difficult to repair)
  • Temperatures too hot or cold (faulty regulators, broken seals, loss of efficiency, etc.)

Steps to Take When Your Refrigerator Goes Down

Regardless of the reason, it's handy to know what to do when your refrigerator goes out in order to salvage your food.

  1. Keep The Refrigerator And Freezer Doors Closed

    According to the USDA, a closed refrigerator will keep cold for about 4 hours. A closed freezer can hold its temperature for at least 24 hours, longer depending on how full it is. Closing your refrigerator and keeping it closed means you can leave your perishable food in the fridge while you figure out your next steps.

  2. Buy Dry Or Block Ice

    Dry ice will keep extremely cold for an extended period, but it can be more challenging to find and can injure if mishandled. Block ice is just like typical ice but a single large piece with a longer shelf life. Place these into a freezer/refrigerator to lower the temperature and keep food safe. (Tip: Use trays or bowls to catch the drip as it melts.)

  3. Grab The Coolers

    Coolers are the most common solution when figuring what to do when your refrigerator goes out. Maximize your cooler space by placing a layer of frozen foods, then putting a layer of perishable foods from the fridge and another layer of frozen foods. If you still need to run to the store, the frozen foods will keep everything cold. Top and fill all the nooks and crannies with ice. (Tip: If you lack an ice chest, use your freezer. Place your foods together and surround them with ice or dry ice. The insulated walls will keep the cold so long as the door remains closed, and it stays stocked with ice.)

  4. Get A Digital Thermometer

    Temperature readings are paramount to proper food safety. The American Red Cross dictates perishable foods can not be stored above 40 degrees for more than 2 hours. If a power outage is 2 hours or less, you don't need to be concerned.

  5. Cook Food as it Thaws

    If you notice that foods are thawing out and you're running out of space for storage, cooking them is an excellent way to ensure they don't go to waste.

Don't Do's When Your Refrigerator Goes Out

  1. Don't Taste-Test Perishable Food

    When in Doubt, Throw it Out! Here's a reference sheet provided by the Federal Food Safety group.

  2. Don't Store Food Outside in the Snow

    If you're in a snowy climate, it can be tempting to place your food outside. The food may attract wild animals looking for a meal, and when the sun comes out, it may warm your food to unsafe temperatures.

With these tips, Howard's hopes you feel better prepared for what to do when your refrigerator goes out. If you decide that it's time to upgrade to a refrigerator that's more efficient and meets your family's needs, Howard's has a massive selection of refrigerators. We even offer local next-day delivery on all in-stock items purchased before 5:00 PM so your food won't have to stay in coolers for long. We will also haul away your old fridge. Plus, our 60-day price match guarantee gives you peace of mind that you secured the best deal.

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