How can fires affect food safety?

Fire is a stressful topic that brings out many emotions. Whether it’s a forest fire, residential fire, or fire in the kitchen only, people often try to save what they can – including food. 

Generally, saving food that’s been in a fire is not a good idea. 

Food exposed to fire can be compromised by four factors:  

  • The heat of the fire 
  • Smoke fumes 
  • Chemicals used to fight the fire 
  • Power outages caused by fire 

Please remember that food unfit for human consumption is also unfit for pets.  When in doubt, throw it out! 

Pantry of food
Heat from fires

If food in cans or jars has been exposed to heat, they may be fine. However, if they have been close to the flames, they may not be edible. The heat from a fire can activate food spoilage bacteria.  

Additionally, if the heat is severe, the cans or jars can split or rupture, and the result is unsafe food. 

Smoke Fumes

Toxic fumes released from burning materials are one of the most dangerous elements of a fire. The fumes can be hazardous and contaminate food.  

Any food stored in permeable packagings such as cardboard or plastic wrap should be thrown away. Toxic fumes can permeate the packaging and contaminate the food.  

Discard any raw foods stored outside the refrigerator, such as potatoes or fruit since they were likely exposed. 

Even food stored in the refrigerator or freezer can become contaminated by fumes as the seals are not necessarily airtight. If food from your refrigerator or freezer has an off-flavor or odor when it is prepared it should be discarded and not eaten  

Power Outages

In order to preserve perishable food, there needs to be a refrigerator or freezer to maintain an optimal temperature.  

Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed if a power outage has occurred and open the refrigerator as little as possible. If the power is off for less than 4 hours refrigerated items should be safe. As for freezers, the timing depends on how much food is in your freezer and how frozen your food is. 

  • 2 days for a full freezer 
  • About 1 day for a half-full freezer 
  • At day 1 or day 2 if the freezer temperature is 41º F or lower and/or ice crystals are still on the food 

These foods can be refrozen or cooked and eaten. 

Discard any perishable food that has been held at temperatures above 41º F for more than 2 hours or any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.  

Never taste food to determine its safety.  

Check with your utility company if you are not sure if the power was shut off and then turned back on. 

Check for these signs in your refrigerator and freezer was turned off: 

  • Liquid or refrozen meat juices 
  • Soft or melted and refrozen ice cream 
  • Unusual odors 
Additional Information

For additional help with food safety questions contact your local county Extension office or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (recorded messages and assistance is available in both English and Spanish) at 1-800-535-4555. 


Adapted from After a Fire, Is the Food Safe? Consumer Information from USDA-FSIS, December 1996 and Keeping Food Safe in an Emergency, USDA-FSIS, April 2002. 


By: Pat Kendall, PhD, RD, Professor and CSU Extension Food Safety Specialist