Food forgotten out of the fridge- is it safe?

Ok, I’m not positive there is a single factual answer to this, but I need some input. So here’s the situation, which IRL was filled with anger and drama, but I will try to de-dramatify it.

So yesterday I made a huge pot of what I think of as my poverty hamburger stew, it lasts us usually three days or so. Ingredients- ground beef, can of tomatoes, can of tomato paste (tomato concentrate), water, beef bouillion cubes, diced potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, salt&pepper, balsamic vinegar & spices/herbs. It’s pretty good and goes a long way for little money.

It was made early yesterday and was chilled all the way down to refrigerator temp. After cooking it was covered and cooled down on the counter for probably two hours before being chilled. At 4 AM, it was taken out and left on the kitchen counter, partially uncovered (it was covered but the person who did the deed also was nice enough to leave the spoon in the pot so the lid didn’t close, but rested on the spoon, so- partially covered) for 10 hours until it was noticed and put back in the fridge at around 2 PM. It was room temperature, naturally.

So- is this safe to eat? I HATE to dump it as it’s 3:20 PM now and that was our dinner. I also hate wasting food, period. I also spent a lot of time washing and cleaning tons of vegetable to make this.

Factors that I think are relevant-
The kitchen is roughly 17 degrees C, it didn’t get any sunlight or anything like that. I’m thinking that the tomato content and the vinegar might help to retard spoilage. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
No dairy in it, which I think is a plus in this situation.
It SMELLS fine.

One last thing- I have half a mind to just heat it up really thoroughly for a long time- is there any sense to this strategy?

Am I just insanely parsimonious and really should just dump this? And- I know there isn’t a cut and dry answer, this isn’t a binary situation…but what kind of chances am I looking at and with what consequences?

An aside, but I seem to recall once seeing some old world recipe for a meat stew where they tell you to leave it out to ‘mature’ or something at room temp. for awhile. Was that hallucination? More wishful thinking?

Well, if it were just me, I’d probably eat some of it, but maybe not a lot. Don’t want to exceed the LD50 dosage threshold. :smiley:

It might also depend on the quality and source of the meat used, and the others who would partake of the meal. How healthy are they etc.

If I was really doubtful, I’d dump it. Having four or five folks all sick at the same time wouldn’t be pleasant.

Safest course would be to dump it.

I don’t think you’ll find a factual answer for this. However, by the food safety regulations, you’d have to throw that out if you were in a restaurant. That’s more of a risk management sort of thing, though. It’s not guaranteed gastrointestinal doom in a case like this, but it certainly makes it much more likely.

Heating it up thoroughly might kill any bacteria growing in there. However, some bacteria produce toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking, and these can make you quite sick as well.

However, I’ve left out food for long periods of time and eaten it with no consequences. Occasionally, I’ve eaten bad leftovers that have given me a mild case of food poisoning.

In your case, I’d probably try to eat just a few bites, see if it tastes funny or makes you sick. A smaller dose might make you uncomfortable, but won’t be nearly as bad as if you ate an entire bowl.

Now, I usually do something similar, where I cook up as much as I can fit in my stock pot, but I’ll split it into freezer bags and keep it frozen. You can re-use the freezer bags if you’re careful. That way I can keep it nearly forever, and only the two or three servings I have in the fridge are ever at risk of spoiling. Plus, I can keep somewhat of a variety of stuff around.

As Edison said, one test is worth a thousand expert opinions. Do you have children? Pick whichever one of them you like the least, and do a little test…TRM

I would heat it and eat it. But I don’t get the logistics. I made enough chicken and vegetable soup/stew for five meals last week. I ate one and put the remainder in 4 storage containers that immediately went in the fridge and freezer.No cooling on the counter and no reheating and recooling the whole batch of leftovers.

A combination of meat broth and starch is about the worst combo to leave out. The danger zone of temperature is 4-60 degrees C, and the recommendation is not to leave something out in that danger zone over 2 hours. So it’s not like this is a case on the borderline.

If you are pressed for money, can you really afford a case of food poisioning, with possible missed work and doctor visits? For all those reasons, I wouldn’t eat it.

Generally speaking, I think it’s paranoiac to worry about cooked food being left out for just one night. Cooking itself is a type of preservation technique, especially something like a stew, which has been simmered at near boiling temperatures for a long time. No, you wouldn’t want a restaurant to do it, but I wouldn’t think twice about it at home.

Might like “in the realm of the possible, techincally speaking”, or more like a real possibility? I mean, is this a strategy worth pursuing? To heat up the whole lot again thoroughly instead of in portions as normal from the fridge state?

Wow, I do this too! I put them immediately back in the freezer so any residue on them stays frozen. I also don’t bag things (when possible) until AFTER they are frozen, which helps keep the bags relatively clean. Just remember to separate things like lasagna pre-freeze!

Do you put them in the fridge/freezer piping hot though? I’m hesitant to do that.

The reheating part is just a reaction to it being carelessly left out overnight, in a possibly misguided effort at damage control. Normally I would just reheat it once- before eating.

As for the portion question, we normally eat the whole lot in two or three days so freezing it down and reheating generally seems like a waste of energy unless I am planning to stockpile food as a kind of backup for rainy days, which I do as well. Then I do your method, except I cool it, covered, to where I think it’s reasonable to put in the fridge/freezer.

I’m intrigued by this approach, but the question for me is cook something else or have this for dinner. It’s an intriguing way of looking at it, though!

Yikes! Could you expand on why this is so?

I’d eat it.


Throwing caution to the wind, I just ate a medium portion of the stuff in question. It’s 17:30 here now, how long before I should feel any ill effects, if they should come?

It tasted dandy, btw.

In the name of sloppy science, BB the GP (Guinea Pig) sings: “Lord, I was born a gamblin man!”

The FDA says “At room temperature, pathogenic bacteria in food can double in number every 30 to 40 minutes.”

Here’s general info on food refrigeration safety:

I do wish you the best of luck with what you’ve decided to eat, and it’s not like I never took any dodgy chances myself. You are not out of the woods yet, though. “The symptoms from the most common types of food poisoning generally start within 2 - 6 hours of eating the food. That time may be longer (even a number of days) or shorter, depending on the cause of the food poisoning.”

Thanks a lot for the info! I supposed it depends on how many of the culprit you have to start with. After a long enough time I can recognize that the size of the original colony is irrelevant. Thanks!

But I don’t see any mention of the deadly meat broth and starch cocktail…am I missing something? I mean that IS what we’re talking about, right? This special case of this unlucky combination?


T + 1’ 15", I so far feel fine, have been doing laundry and racing up and down stairs, hoping to expedite the inevitable should it indeed be inevitable…I foolishly fear nothing- Bring it on!!!
famous last words…

Here is a discussion of using broth to grow bacteria:

On the cooling at room temperature before chilling…

Unless it’s really hot (like simmering-hot), don’t. Put anything you’re not eating straight into the fridge as soon as you know it’s leftovers. Letting it cool to room temperature on the counter first will save your fridge’s compressor some work, but it will also take much, much longer to drop the food to a temperature that retards the growth of bacteria.

Ummmm…I don’t see a thing there about the meat broth/starch combo you spoke of before. Thanks for the link, but do you have anything with regards to my actual question? I’m really curious about that and if you mis-typed, that’s fine, but if you have some info, don’t hold back! If I’m missing something, please let me know. I’m not trying to be snarky.

But, but,but…that’s exactly what I’m talking about- letting it cool down if it’s stove-piping hot. For a pot as large as I made, I leave it covered considering keeping out as many air-bourne things as possible- it DOES take 2 hours before I can even hold my hand to the side of the pot without it being too hot. What would YOU do? I know you said you wouldn’t put it in piping hot, but you also were pretty adamant about not cooling it down…So I’m not really following you.

I’d eat it, if I wanted to. (If I wasn’t crazy about eating the leftovers anyway, out it goes.) I’d feed it to my boyfriend. I would not feed it to my 78 year old dad, who’s in poor health and on a lot of medications.

Make 2N more batches, where N is equal to 2^X and X is equal to the # of 30 minute periods the stew sat in the danger zone. Distribute the poison batch among the new batches. Handle the new batches correctly.

Don’t do this. You’ll heat up all the food in your fridge to the danger zone for an unsafe period of time. Instead, buy a blast chiller fridge and cool only 1 batch of future leftovers at a time. Then transfer to your main fridge.

ETA: Or just do a makeshift blast chiller by shocking your leftovers in an ice bath. Or spraying them down with a CO2 fire extinguisher.

Whoops, I must have misread–I thought it had been left to sit out after being reheated. (At which point I guess my question would be, why are you reheating the whole pot when you’re only going to eat part of it.)

Maybe you read more than I intended into what I said. But in the link they are describing how to grow bacteria, when what you are intending to do is to grow bacteria. They are advising you that the way to do this successfully is in beef or chicken broth, with perhaps a little sugar (similar to starch). When people *want *to grow bacteria, that’s what they use. They aren’t recommending water, or milk, or wine, or blood, or motor oil, or some other liquid–the recommended liquid for growing bacteria-is beef or chicken broth, and simple carbs (sugar or starch) to provide easily digestible food for the bacteria.