Food Preparation & Safety
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Food Preparation & Safety
We recently made soup late in the evening, but forgot to put it in the
refrigerator before bed.
My partner and I disagree whether to throw it out. The specifics:
-- was extremely hot at bedtime
-- was down to 80 degrees F when I found it in the morning
-- contained meat (chicken italian sausage)
-- lid was left on (my partner believes that this would prevent
bacteria getting in!)
-- refrigerated it immediately when found it, and within 24 hours put
it in the freezer (because we couldn't come to agreement) I see lots
of personal opinions on the web that support both of our opinions, but
am hoping to get a more definitive/scientific answer
somewhere. (e.g. is there a food safety expert to call?)
Harold McGee's your man. He's a food scientist and he recently wrote
an article on this topic for the New York Times. It's reproduced on
his website at: http://www.curiouscook.com/site/food-safety/ (He uses
soup as an example for discussing food safety in this article and if
it's a scientific answer you're after, your partner will learn from
this piece that it's not an issue of bacteria ''falling in'' to the
pot.) McGee is considered the go-to guy on food science by basically
all modern chefs.
Also, from personal experience, a scientific answer may not be enough
to satisfy your partner. My husband grew up in a house with
less-than-great food safety practices, and he still relies on the: I
grew up that way and I didn't die argument.
Good luck and stay healthy.
Toss it. That is several hours in the temperature ''danger
zone'' where bacteria grow the best (see the USDA guidelines
You can also call their hotline at 1-888-674-6854). Covering
it doesn't make a difference --- the bacteria are already
there. And at 80+F degrees for several hours they will have
proliferated like mad. That's basically an incubator!
Now I find some of the USDA advice overkill (i.e. some of
the meat cooking temps) but I got food poisoning about two
years ago from some chicken that had been out too long and
it was the most miserable experience of my life (I had to be
hospitalized, was 20 weeks pregnant, and in a foreign
country). After that I adopted the position of when in doubt
about food, toss. Because nothing is worth that experience
again. It's soup. You can make more.
don't risk it
For commercial food service in California, the rule is that
the food must be cooled from 135 degrees to 41 degrees
within six hours, in order that bacteria are not given too
much time to multiply. That's probably the only ''official''
rule you can get.
certified food handler
Ha, I bet you'll get responses all over the map for this. The official USDA
position--they have a website you can refer to, google USDA food safety for a
conservative official opinion--would be no, it's been left out for over 2 hours
at hot/warm temperature and it contains meat, making it a good environment
for bacteria to grow in. And no I don't think a lid would keep bacteria out.
However, that said, I come down on your partner's side. It's winter, so it's
been sitting at cool room temp (although you say 80B0 in the morning? I am
kinda surprised), and it's cured meat, and it's soup, which has simmered for a
long time to kill whatever bacteria might originally have been present. I
personally would feel comfortable reheating it and simmering it at a medium
heat for a nice little spell and eating it. I might not give it to my kid, at least
not until 8-10 hours after I had eaten it to test it out, since kids are more
susceptible to food poisoning than adults, but I would eat it. I think
Americans are a little nutso about food safety--I say this as an American and
as a cooking editor with experience living abroad in other first-world
countries. To sum up: Don't eat the soup if you don't want, and feel free to
draw the line at giving it to your kids, but don't give your partner a hard time
if he wants to give it a go. Let him be the guinea pig!
-Not the soup nazi
It's fine. that soup won't kill you. Yes, you'll hear
scientific data about how bacteria grows so quickly (even with
a lid on it!), but whatever. Think of all the millions of
people in the world that make due without our rigid food
safety laws and are just fine.
But if you're grossed out by the thought of it, then nothing
will convince you otherwise, and you won't be enjoying that
I've done this often when I make soup at night and it's
too hot to put in the fridge, or I want the flavors to
steep. It's usually still pretty warm in the AM, and I
either heat it up again (killing any critters that might
be lingering) or heat it again before we eat it.
So far....no sickness, even with meat.
I bet you'll get all kinds of varying opinions to this.
If it's not sitting in the sun, and it's not eggs or mayo,
I don't worry too much, within reason.
The rule is that food shouldn't be left out at room
temperature (41-135 degrees). There is a ''super danger
zone'' that I can't recall but is on the upper end of that
spectrum. That is, in the warmer end of the danger zone,
bacteria multiply especially quickly.
That said, many, many people have eaten food that doesn't
comply with restaurant food service standards and lived to
tell the tale. The standards are in place because they are
to ensure safety. If you cooked your poultry to what the
USDA recommends, you'd always have dry meat.
I think the answer is that you probably could have reboiled
the soup and eaten it IF it tasted ok (I think some would
disagree, but I think it depends...), but overnight on a
warm night is pushing it, so it would be safe to throw it
out too. If you were in a restaurant, it would of course be
The Center For Disease Control has many amusing and useful
articles and bits of info (shoot, they have a whole blog/web
site devoted to) food-borne illnesses. Scientific. Experts.
They work for you, too.
Here's a start:
That soup is not safe. Even if re-heated, many bacteria
produce toxins that are not destroyed by heat. 80 degrees is
the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive and multiply.
One of the worst food-borne illnesses is Bacillus cereus. It
grows on grains that have been heated and then improperly
stored. It's spore-forming. It would take a lot of heat to
kill the spores.
When in doubt, throw it out.
Have you ever had food poisoning? I suspect not,
or you'd be throwing it out.
Maybe do this thought experiment -- you throw a pair
of dice. If you get double sixes, you'll spend the next 12
hours throwing up and having diarrhea. Do you want to
throw those dice?
''Remember the danger zone: 41B: F - 135B: F. Potentially hazardous foods
exposed to this temperature range for a cumulative total of more than 4 hours
are not safe to eat.''
This is the standard food safety rule.
Well, leaving the lid on actually does keep the bugs out. If
the pot was kept covered except while serving, probably very
few bugs got in. But if it was uncovered for more than a
couple of minutes, there are plenty of bugs in there.
However, if if it was boiled with a lid on after dinner and
then left out, it was probably essentially sterile. Before
refrigerators, this is how people saved food. I would not
tell you that you can eat it or you shouldn't. But in my
house, I can tell you, we commonly heat things with a lid on
and leave them on the stove to eat the next day. Some people
say that heating on the stove uses less energy than cooling
in the fridge. But I don't really know.
We did this once, with a homemade chicken soup. The next
day we boiled the heck out of it and then ate it with
gusto. No sickness. I'm sure you could do the same.
We usually leave our soup out overnight before refrigerating it in the morning
(simply because it doesn't usually cool down before we turn into bed and you
should generally let food cool down naturally before refrigerating it). We've
never been poisoned
To be sure, check to make sure there is no surface bubbling (which could
indicate that it has spoiled) and make sure that you fully reheat it (preferably
bringing it to a boil). You'll be fine.
We regularly eat food that has been left out overnight, even
on warm nights and including meat. I would recommend
bringing it to a boil first, then eating it.
On the other hand, if it makes you uncomfortable, the person
who thinks it's OK to eat could eat it and the other person
could decide not to eat it.
If you wanted to be safe you could just recook the soup.
Boil it for awhile and it will kill any bacteria that may
Refuse to Waste Food
I would eat it, after boiling first. And reboil any leftovers
I know families who leave food (esp soup or really saucy
dishes w/ meat) on the stove all day &/or over night; it's
cultural. They make sure to bring it to a boil after any
utensil has touched it when it won't be eaten for a while, and
reboil again prior to eating.
I've eaten it. We've had at least one pot of soup forgotten
overnight. I ate it.
It's really about YOUR comfort level.
If you are okay with it, you can eat it and your spouse can
eat something else!
I would eat it, but that's me.
Eat the soup already! I leave leftovers out overnight all
the time and I've never had a problem. If it still smells
fresh and it was only out for a night I'm sure it's fine.
this page was last updated: Feb 14, 2012
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