Did you know that improper food handling causes about 30% of all foodborne illnesses? It’s not just how you cook the food that’s important; it’s how you store it, as well. When it comes to food storage, there’s one question that is asked more than any other: How long can cooked food be left out of the fridge?
- Two-Hour Rule – The general rule of thumb is that the time food spends between 140°F and 40°F should be no longer than a total of two hours. Within this temperature range, which is often called the “Danger Zone,” bacteria can multiply at an incredibly fast rate, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Any prepared food or leftovers that sit out longer than 2 hours should be discarded immediately.
- Wait a Bit – When storing cooked food, never go directly from the heat source to the refrigerator. If the food is too hot, then heat may raise the temperature within the fridge high enough to increase bacterial growth on food that is currently being cooled. The best approach is to leave cooked food covered with aluminum foil or plastic wrap until it has cooled down and is only warm to the touch.
- Don’t Risk It – While no one wants to feel like they are “wasting” food, airing on the side of caution when it comes to storing cooked food and leftovers is always the smart decision. If you are unsure of how long something has been sitting out of the fridge, then discard it immediately. It’s better to throw away a few ounces of cooked chicken than it is to expose yourself to foodborne illness.