Sept. 11, 2023—Power outages may come as an unpleasant surprise—especially when you can't be sure how long they'll last. While knowing what to do before, during and after the power goes out can't prevent outages from occurring, it can empower you to stay safe and healthy until the lights come back on.
Stock up for success
Before an outage, consider your power needs—and how you'll keep foods and medicines safe. Make sure you have plenty of batteries and other supplies, including flashlights for everyone in the family and a battery-powered radio for emergency updates.
Does anyone in your household use a medication—such as insulin—that requires refrigeration? Ask your doctor or pharmacist now for advice on how to handle an outage. And if you use a medical device that needs electricity, make sure you have a compatible power bank or backup battery.
Store ice packs in the freezer to use in the fridge or a cooler if needed. Freeze not-quite-full plastic bottles of water, which can be used as fresh water when melted. And don't forget to install thermometers in your fridge and freezer. They can help you ensure that your foods (and refrigerated medicines) stay at a safe temperature. Freezers should be at or below 0 degrees, and the fridge should be below 40 degrees.
Know how you'll charge your phone or other mobile device too. That might mean having a car charger ready to roll. Or you might keep a rechargeable power bank topped off for emergencies.
Power outages can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators and other equipment. Protect yourself and your family by installing battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors. If you use a generator during an outage—or any other carbon monoxide-producing device—detectors can alert you to dangerous levels of this deadly, colorless and odorless gas.
Put safety first when the power is out
During an outage, take steps to stay safe—and comfortable.
First, take stock of current conditions. If your home is likely to become too hot, too cold or otherwise unsafe, head to a safer location. That might be a friend or family member's house or a community shelter.
Next, unplug your appliances and electronics to avoid a damaging power surge when the electricity returns.
Play it safe with gas or propane generators. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning or causing a fire. And never use a generator in the house, in the garage, on a porch or near open doors or windows.
Don't use a gas stove or oven to heat your home. That poses a carbon monoxide risk too.
Keep your fridge and freezer doors closed during an outage. A full refrigerator will keep food under 40 degrees for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temp stable for about 48 hours.
In an extended outage, a cooler with ice or ice packs can help keep food and refrigerated medications safe.
Camp stoves or charcoal grills can be a good way to get cooking when you can't use your stove. But before you fire them up, make sure they're at least 20 feet away from your house.
After the outage: Assess the damage
Depending on how long you went without power, it may be time to clean out your fridge or freezer. Do a thermometer check. If your freezer temperature didn't rise higher than 40 degrees, you can safely refreeze or cook the food soon afterwards.
If fridge temps were above 40 degrees for more than four hours, though, you'll have to do some cleaning. Get rid of perishable meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs or leftovers. When in doubt, throw it out.
Not sure if your medication is still safe to take? Call your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
Take a moment to reflect on how your family handled the outage—and what supplies you might need to restock. And check for more ways to prepare for disasters in our Disaster Preparedness health topic center.
- American Red Cross. "Power Outage." https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/get-help/power-outage/EN_Power-Outage-Safety-Checklist.pdf.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Food Safety for Power Outages." https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/food-safety-during-a-power-outage.html.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Prepare Yourself for a Power Outage." https://www.fema.gov/blog/prepare-yourself-power-outage.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Use Generators Safely at Home." https://www.fema.gov/fact-sheet/use-generators-safely-home.
- Ready.gov. "Power Outages." https://www.ready.gov/power-outages#tips.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods." https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/food-and-water-safety-during-power-outages-and-floods.