How long can I leave out my barbecue food before I get food poisoning?
Summer is here, and there's nothing better than dining alfresco. But between barbecues, picnics and days at the beach, food safety can take a back seat. You just want to have fun, right?
Think again. Nothing ruins the fun faster than rushing to the bathroom (or worse — the hospital) because you ate food that was left out too long, which then became a breeding ground for bacteria.
Luckily, following these simple guidelines will help keep you and your family safe, so you can enjoy all that the summer has to offer.
Safe for two hours (between 40-89 degrees; one hour if it's over 90 degrees)
Fruit salad — Cut fruit can quickly spoil. If it's been left out for more than two hours, into the garbage it goes.
Macaroni, pasta and potato salads — It's not the mayo's fault — when cooked and raw cut vegetables, pasta and herbs are left out too long, they become breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. Keep these foods out of the sun, and if they're not refrigerated after two hours, throw them out.
Green salad — Leafy greens are hard to wash, and as such, often carry harmful bacteria. When you leave a salad unrefrigerated, the bacteria can start to grow to dangerous levels. That's why after two hours sitting out, you should ditch that salad.
Vegetables for grilling — Veggies may seem harmless, but E. coli, listeria and other dangerous bacteria can start to grow if they're left out longer than two hours.
Grilled meats — Even though the meat is cooked, it can start to grow bacteria. If your platter of grilled meat is left out for more than two hours, it's unsafe to be consumed.
Raw meat — Even though you're going to end up cooking it, raw meat that's been left at room temperature for more than two hours isn't safe to eat, and should be discarded.
Safe all day
Mustard, ketchup, hot sauce and relish — These acidic foods can be left unrefrigerated all day. Try to avoid placing them in direct sunlight, which can alter their flavor, and keep them in airtight containers when they're not being used.
Pickles — Thanks to their high acid and salt content, commercial (not lacto-fermented pickles) can be safely left out all day. Keep the jar closed when not in use, and refrigerate as soon as possible after you eat. (Lacto-fermented pickles are fine at room temperature, but bacteria can overproduce and mold can grow when the jars are left in the hot summer sun for more than two hours, spoiling the pickles).
Butter — The butter for your corn on the cob can be left out all day, but be warned — it'll probably melt and may start to taste rancid if it's hot. You should also keep it in an airtight container, and keep it closed when not in use.
Safe for more than one day
Fruit pies — Fruit pies, covered with plastic wrap or foil, can be kept at room temperature for a couple of days, then refrigerated for up to two days more. However, if they are kept above room temperature (in excess of 70 degrees) for too long, they could start to harbor bacteria. If your pie has been left in the hot summer sun for more than two hours, you may want to consider tossing it.
Cakes — Cakes that don't contain fresh fruit or whipped cream can be left at room temperature for quite a while. Cut cake can last for 3-4 days at room temperature, though if it's left in the sun for more than two hours and it's more than 70 degrees out, be cautious.
Cookies — Soft, homemade cookies can last 2-3 days at room temperature, while hard cookies, like gingersnap, can last weeks without going bad.