What to Do if Your Freezer Stops Working


With the rising costs of food, it can be a big financial burden when your freezer suddenly breaks or you lose power for several days (assuming you can’t keep your food from spoiling).

In this post, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks on how to keep your food frozen longer without power, how to be more prepared, and more.

How to keep food frozen longer when your freezer isn’t running

If your freezer will be off longer than one to two days, there are several methods you can use to extend the time your food will remain frozen: 

  • Keep your freezer closed as much as possible, and only open it briefly.
  • Insulate your freezer by wrapping it with crumpled newspapers and then blankets. Don’t cover the air vents in case the freezer begins operating.
  • Use dry ice to keep the temperature low. Place heavy cardboard over packages of frozen food. Put the dry ice on top of the cardboard. If dry ice is obtained before the freezer temperature rises significantly, you can keep your freezer cold longer. Just be careful when using dry ice. Wear leather work gloves or use tongs.
  • If there are small children in the household, consider keeping the freezer door locked to prevent them from accidentally leaving the door open. It’s a good idea to lock chest freezers anyway, to prevent small children from potentially falling in and getting trapped.
  • If you are friendly with any neighbors (and they still have power), ask if their freezer has any extra space. They might be willing to hold some of your food until you can get back up and running. You may also be able to store some of your food at a local market, if they have extra freezer space. It doesn’t hurt to ask!


Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prepare for a power outage or other disruption?

If you have a full-sized home freezer, you likely invested a lot of money in frozen food. So it’s important to take a few extra precautions to ensure against a loss, in case of a power outage, mechanical failure, or other problems. 

Check your freezer

It’s surprisingly easy to go several weeks without checking your freezer, especially if it’s located out in the garage. Check your freezer at least once or twice a week to make sure it’s working properly.

Before you buy, consider the features

If you plan to buy a new freezer, consider models that have an alarm. No matter why the freezer is off, the alarm will sound if the temp rises too high, and you’ll be warned of the problem. 

Use a digital refrigerator/freezer thermometer

If your freezer goes out for any reason and is off for some time, a digital thermometer (with a log) can help you see how warm the freezer has become. Knowing the highest temperature that food has reached is the most important factor to determine whether or not the thawed food in your freezer is safe. Having a freezer thermometer also gives you more control over the quality of your frozen food. Keep the freezer temperature at 0 degrees F.

Choose the right power source

It’s best to plug your freezer into a dedicated outlet that is not connected to a circuit protected by a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) device. GFIs are easily tripped by power surges, shutting off power to your freezer.  

Lower the temp in advance

If for any reason you anticipate a potential extended power failure (e.g. a big incoming snowstorm), reduce the freezer temp to -10 or -20 degrees F. The colder the food, the more time it takes to thaw.  

Locate a source of dry ice or an alternate freezer site 

Figure out if there is a local source for dry ice or a supermarket that has freezer space available for the community to use. If you locate these sources before an emergency, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress later, if your freezer suddenly stops working.

How long will food stay frozen when my freezer turns off?

Food in a full freezer will stay frozen for about two days. Food in a freezer that is only half full may stay frozen up to one day.

As soon as your freezer goes off, determine how long the problem will last. If it’s a power failure, ask the power company how long the power will be off. If it is a mechanical failure, check the instruction booklet that came with your freezer to see if you can remedy the problem. If not, schedule a repair service. 

Once you know when your freezer is expected to be operational again, assess whether you can leave food in the freezer or if you need to take additional steps to ensure that your food remains frozen.  

If you leave the freezer door shut, several factors affect how long your food stays frozen:

The amount of food

A freezer full of food will stay frozen for roughly two days compared to a half-full freezer that may stay frozen for closer to one day. Keeping containers of ice in a partially filled freezer helps keep other foods frozen longer. Also, while the freezer is operating, less energy is required to keep the ice frozen than to keep space or air at 0 degrees F.

The kind of food

A freezer full of meat will not warm up as fast as a freezer full of baked food.

The temperature your freezer was set to before it quit

The colder the food, the longer it will stay frozen.

Amount of freezer insulation

A well-insulated freezer will keep food frozen much longer than one with little insulation.

Size of the freezer

The larger the freezer, the longer the food will stay frozen, particularly if the freezer is full.

When is food safe to refreeze after your freezer stops working?

If food is safe to eat, it’s safe to refreeze. When you find that your freezer is off, check the temperature in two or three locations. Then, take a look at the packages of food. If foods still contain ice crystals and/or if the freezer is 40 degrees F or less and has been at that temperature no longer than one to two days, then food that was safe when it was originally frozen should be safe now. It can be refrozen or cooked and eaten.

If food has been held at 40 degrees F or less but kept at this temperature for some time, examine it more closely. If the color or odor of thawed beef, pork, lamb, or poultry is questionable, discard the meat to avoid possible human or animal consumption that could result in food poisoning.

Often you cannot tell by the odor whether vegetables, shellfish, and cooked foods are spoiled. Bacteria multiply rapidly in these foods so don’t eat or refreeze any that have thawed completely. If ice crystals remain in these foods, it’s usually safe to refreeze them. However, the texture will be mushier, the nutritional value may be lower, and the flavor and color may not be top quality.

If the freezer is above 40 degrees F and you know it has been at that temperature for more than two hours, then the food probably is not safe. Fruits and bread products are exceptions. Fruits ferment when they start to spoil, but a little fermentation won’t make fruits unsafe to eat. Fermentation will eventually spoil the flavor and odor of fruit. You can refreeze completely thawed fruits if they still taste and smell good. Or you can use them in cooking and baking or for making jams and jellies.

Bread will be staler, but may still be acceptable. Toasting, steaming in the oven in aluminum foil, or microwaving in paper toweling or plastic wrap will help freshen them. If you need help to decide about the safety of particular products, call your Colorado State University Extension county office.


How can I clean and remove freezer odors after my freezer fails?

If your freezer is full of warm, dripping or spoiled food, you need to take one or more of the following steps to clean and deodorize it before refilling it:

  • Take out all removable parts and wash them with warm water and mild soap or detergent. Also, wash the gaskets and door liner. Rinse well and dry.
  • Wash the interior walls with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda to 1-quart of warm water.
  • Use baking soda by pouring it into large, flat pans and placing them on the freezer shelves to absorb odors.
  • Spread activated charcoal onto large, flat pans and place them on shelves inside the freezer. Leave the freezer empty and allow it to run at its highest temperature for a few days to allow odors to be absorbed. Activated charcoal usually is quite effective in absorbing odors and can sometimes be obtained at appliance stores.
  • Place freshly ground coffee in small bowls inside the freezer and allow the freezer to run at its highest temperature for several days. Wash the inside of the freezer again to remove the slight coffee odor that will probably remain.
  • Pack each freezer shelf with crumpled newspaper. Put a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper lightly with water. Allow the freezer to run for approximately five to six days at its highest temperature.
  • Follow manufacturer’s directions for commercial products available for removal of refrigerator and freezer odors. These products often can be found at hardware, grocery, or discount stores.
  • If these methods do not satisfactorily eliminate odor problems, drippings from meat or fish may have leaked into the freezer’s insulation or gaskets. The problem may require a refrigerator technician to replace the liner or the insulation.
Author Info and References

This content was original created by R. Waskom, J. Kallenberger, B. Grotz, and T. Bauder for Colorado State University.



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