Power Outages and Energy Emergencies

Here you will find information and tips about food, drinking water, and bottle feeding safety during a power outage.

For other emergency preparedness information, check the Emergency Planning page.

Safe food during a power outage

Power outages can create problems with food safety. Spoiled food may or may not look or taste bad, but may make you sick if you eat it.

Food that spoils should not be kept above 4º C for more than two hours.

The following guidelines can help with food safety decisions and may lower the risk of food-borne illnesses.

What to do

  • Make ice packs in cleaned plastic pop or water bottles 3/4 full as soon as you know the power may go out; do not use glass containers to freeze water.
  • Try not to open the refrigerator, freezer, or cooler until you need the food
  • If power is out for more than two hours, pack milk, dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and eggs into a cooler with lots of ice so the food is covered and put the lid on. 
An unopened fridge will keep foods cold enough for at least two hours. A freezer that is half full of food will keep food cold for one day. A full freezer will keep food safe for two days.

Note: The freezer will be the coldest in the back, so that is where your meat should go.

What you need

  • One or more coolers
  • Canned goods
  • Non-electric can opener

One or more coolers, will do an excellent job. If you do not have a cooler perhaps you could share with a neighbour or friend.

Canned goods will keep for long periods of time, for as long as two years, so be prepared. You can purchase milk, meat, vegetables, and fruits in cans. These do not require cooking and can be eaten cold if no heat is available. Don't forget to have a non-electric can opener.

What should be discarded

If the food in the freezer has ice crystals on it and is not above 4º C you may refreeze the item. A food thermometer is needed to be sure of the temperature. If you do not have a thermometer, you may have to make a decision based on how cold the food feels. Food from the fridge should feel cold to touch. If it is warm, it should be thrown out. The following chart can help you decide.

When to Save and When to Throw Out

The chart is based on information provided by the American Red Cross - After a Disaster. 

Safe drinking water during a power outage

During a power outage, both municipal and private well systems may be affected. Safe water is required for drinking, bathing, brushing teeth, washing food (such as fruits and vegetables), cooking and cleaning. On average, each person requires five gallons (23 litres) of water per day. The following points highlight some safe water choices:

  • Keep a supply of commercial bottled water available for use. 
  • If available, use water supplied by a municipality unaffected by the power outage.
  • Use water from an established private well, if unaffected by the power outage or if run by an emergency generator.

Treating tap water when a Boil Water Advisory has been issued

  • Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute - let it cool before drinking. If you are using a charcoal or gas barbecue to boil water, ensure that it is used outdoors.
  • If water cannot be boiled, add household bleach to your water source. Add ¼ tsp. of bleach for every one gallon (4.5 litres) of water. Shake the container and let stand for at least 30 minutes before consuming.
  • If available, use camping water purification systems or tablets - follow manufacturer's instructions.

Safe bottle feeding during a power outage

For mothers who are breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed your infant.

An electrical power blackout limits parents/caregivers' ability to safely store expressed breast milk, clean bottles, caps and nipples, keep food preparation areas and handling methods safe and clean, etc.

For detailed information check Safe Bottle Feeding During an Electrical Power Blackout sheet.