Power Outages and Spoiled Food: What’s Covered By Home Insurance

Matt Hands
by Matt Hands March 16, 2017 / No Comments

Whether an ice storm knocks out power for half your city or a lightning storm smashes a tree into your power lines, dealing with a blackout is never fun. And even if nothing else is damaged, an extended power outage will have you reaching out to your home insurance provider as well.

That’s because if the power outage goes on long enough, some of your property — frozen food — could be damaged. Once cut off from their power source, full freezers will keep food cool for about 48 hours if it isn’t opened, and 24 hours if the appliance is only half full.

When southern Alberta was hit by catastrophic floods in June 2013, some residents lived without power for more than a week. Thousands had their food spoil or left submerged in dirty flood waters, but they may have been reimbursed for some of it, since homeowners’ policies often include coverage for food spoilage resulting accidental power cuts or faulty refrigeration.

The cause of the power outage may determine whether or not your insurer will cover the loss. Insurer SGI Canada, for example, will pay up to $1,000 for the loss or damage of frozen food “when caused by accidental interruption of electrical power off the premises or mechanical breakdown of the said refrigeration unit(s).” That would exclude having your power cut because you didn’t pay your hydro bills (that interruption of power would be considered deliberate) as well as the “tree crashing into your power lines” scenario, since that would be on your premises. It would, however, cover food damaged because of natural disasters like the Alberta floods or the nasty ice storm that hit Toronto in December 2013.

Aviva Canada, on the other hand, covers food spoilage “caused by the accidental interruption of electrical power on or off the premises or by mechanical breakdown of the freezer.” So, unlike SGI Canada, its policyholders would likely be reimbursed if a fallen tree cuts their power lines.

Both insurers’ policies come with exclusions: Aviva won’t cover spoilage caused by circuit breaker or fuse issues. SGI won’t cover losses caused by natural spoilage, renovating the freezer unit, manual disconnection of the power supply, and carelessness on the policyholder’s part. Neither will cover expenses incurred when buying the food.

Interestingly, SGI’s coverage isn’t subject to a deductible, but filing a claim may result in a premium increase when you renew your policy. Other insurers, of course, may impose a deductible. To determine whether or not you should file a claim, first calculate how much food you lost: were you about to serve oysters, caviar and filet mignon to a dozen people, or did you just have to toss a tub of yogurt and some salami? It may make more sense to replace your own groceries and save on next year’s premiums.

When filing a claim for food spoilage, make sure you document exactly what food went bad and, if possible, how much it cost. That could involve pictures or videos of the damaged food, pictures or videos of barcodes, or receipts. If the spoilage was caused by a blackout, you’ll also need to provide documentation, which news stories or reports from your hydro company could provide.

If your food went bad because your freezer broke down, you’ll need to provide documentation of the mechanical issues. Photos or video may be sufficient, but it’s a good idea to speak with your insurer before throwing out the unit. They may want to examine it, and may also be able to help you safely dispose of it.

To estimate your insurance costs, get a home insurance quote.

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