When Power Goes Out: Refrigerator and Freezer Food Safety Tips for Boating Trips


Each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick from a foodborne illness. According to the CDC, one of the two leading causes of foodborne illness is “allowing food to remain at an unsafe temperature too long.”

If not properly frozen or refrigerated, it doesn’t take much time out on the water for food temperatures to rise, causing bacteria to rise to dangerous levels. Taking the necessary precautions can keep your food safe to eat and the people on your vessel safe.

When your house loses power, items left in the refrigerator and freezer will stay cold and frozen for a period of time. On your vessel, the same is true. Frigibars, for example, have more insulation than a household freezer, increasing the time you can expect your food to stay at a safe temperature even when power is not readily available or you’re working to get the generator back up and running.

Don’t leave your health and the safety of your food up to chance. If your power goes out, here are important food safety tips and considerations to follow and keep in mind.

  • Be aware of required temperatures for your frozen items

To retain vitamin contents, flavor, and inactivate bacteria and microbes, food items should be frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping your items at this temperature will ensure they are properly frozen and will stay frozen longer if power is not available for a period of time on your boat.

  • Put ice on it


Freezers and refrigerators are coolers with motors. If the motor goes out due to failure or power outage, you can always opt to fill the unit with wet or dry ice until you can get power restored. If you have the option of getting ice, it is most likely your best bet to save the contents.

  • The types of items that are cold or frozen

The types of items in your freezer or refrigerator will determine how long they will stay edible for without power. A mayonnaise-based macaroni salad will not last as long as a stick of butter and a thick steak frozen properly will stay frozen longer than a pint of ice cream.

  • How full is your refrigerator or freezer?

Ever used a piece of frozen meat like an ice pack after getting a bump or bruise? A freezer packed full (and kept shut) will maintain a colder temperature longer than a half-empty unit. This doesn’t mean you should always over-stuff your freezer, but keeping one or two items in it will mean these items will defrost more quickly if you lose power.

Once the items in your freezer are completely frozen and the freezer remains unopened, items in a full freezer should keep for approximately 48 hours. Items in a half-full freezer should keep for approximately 24 hours. If you store ice in your freezer, this will also add to the longevity of maintaining the freezer’s temperature while unpowered.

  • Check your seal


The strength of your freezer’s seal (what keeps it sealed tight, not the cute animal pictured above), which depends on the gasket being in good working order, will have a significant impact on power consumption, proper function, and keeping items frozen without power.

  • Quantity and quality of insulation material

The thickness, insulation value and quality of your freezer system’s insulating material has a direct impact on the contents and how well the freezer or refrigerator will function.

  • Keep closed for as long as possible

Your freezer and refrigerator are made to keep things cold. When opened, cold air escapes from the unit, raising the temperature of your food and drinks. If power goes out, leave your refrigerator and freezer closed for as long as possible to keep from removing the cold air that is not being replaced once it has been lost.

  • Consider the ambient temperature where the refrigerator/freezer unit is located.

The temperature directly outside of a freezer on the deck of a boat will likely be significantly warmer than the temperature surrounding a system located in the galley or interior cabin. Keep this in mind when placing your Frigibar, or any other freezer or refrigerator, in an available space on your boat. You will get more time to save your food in the event of losing power if you place in a cool covered place, like the shaded sundeck or protected cockpit.

  • What was the state of the contents when power went out?

The colder an item of food is, the longer it will stay frozen and the longer it takes to defrost. If the items in your freezer have been frozen for a week, they will stay safely frozen for far longer than items you first put in the freezer a couple of hours ago. For example, freshly caught fish will go bad quicker than a solid frozen steak if temperatures rise and refrigeration isn’t available.

  • Holding plate

A holding plate is a metal or plastic plate filled with saline or chemical solution that will act as a big ice cube when the power is off from the unit. It is necessary to size holding plate correctly to maintain the safe temperature you desire if you plan to turn your unit off for any reason.

  • When in doubt, throw it out!

Trust your gut and don’t take risks with food safety. If you have any doubt that the food in your refrigerator or freezer may not be safe to keep or eat, safely dispose of it. No meal is worth getting sick.

For more on keeping your food, yourself, and friends safe in the case of losing power, view the FDA’s Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods guide.