Is This Food Safe to Eat?

winter squash quiche with tomatoes, chives, cheese and whole-wheat oil crustEvery day WikiAnswers lists dozens of questions about whether it’s safe to eat the three-day-old quiche, or the raw chicken left on the counter. The problem is that every food is stored under different conditions, and this makes a huge difference in how long it keeps. Published guidelines tend to be conservative. If you follow them strictly you may end up throwing out good food.

I wrote up a list of things to consider when deciding about questionable leftovers. The list will help you think about the type of food and whether it was stored properly. But first, examine the food. Leftover food should always look and smell normal.

The list is also a guide for storing foods carefully in the future. You pay good money for your food, why throw it out because it wasn’t put away properly?

Safer

Less safe

Temperature
  • Stored while still hot.
  • Left at room temperature for any length of time.
  • Stored in back of refrigerator.
  • Stored in door of refrigerator.
  • Cool kitchen/climate.
  • Hot kitchen/climate.
  • Cool refrigerator, opened infrequently.
  • Refrigerator set too warm or opened frequently.
  • When served a second time food was reheated or boiled, then stored in a clean container.
  • Food was served a second time, remainder left or replaced in container without reheating.
Type of Food
  • Dry foods.
  • Moist foods, especially liquids.
  • Vegetables and grain products.
  • Foods containing animal products like fish, meat or dairy.
  • Contains acid like vinegar or lemon/orange juice.
  • No acidic content.
  • Highly salted.
  • Little or no salt.
  • Contains artificial preservatives.
  • No artificial preservatives.
Storage Options
  • Larger amount.
  • Smaller amount.
  • Untouched by human hands.
  • Touched by fingers or saliva.
  • Uncontaminated by other foods.
  • Contaminated by utensil with traces of bread, meat, or other foods.
  • Stored in clean plastic, glass, ceramic or metal container.
  • Stored in original aluminum can.
  • Less air in container (filled to top).
  • More air in container.
  • Tightly sealed.
  • Uncovered.
  • Container stayed closed.
  • Container has been opened and reclosed.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

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Comments

  1. This is a useful chart to keep handy. It reminds me of things I knew but forgot (or ignore) and it has one or two surprises for me. For example, I was taught to allow foods to cool down to room temp before storing – I see that modern wisdom says to store food hot.

  2. Thanks, Mimi. Part of the reason that the guidelines have changed is because refrigerator technology has improved enough so that hot foods do not threaten the cold ones (within limits).

  3. I think refrigerator technology has changed in other ways as well. My last few refrigerators have kept items on the door at least as cold, if not colder, than the rest of the refrigerator.

  4. I don’t think my fridge does that but you’re right, some do.

  5. Faye Levy says:

    Thanks for the useful information.

    For storage times on specific foods, I check stilltasty.com. It has a good search feature.

  6. bracha goldman says:

    Isn’t this listing backwards? – you write:
    SAFER When served a second time food was reheated or boiled, then stored in a clean container.
    LESS SAFE Food has never been reheated.

    • Bracha, see how I changed that entry. Is it more clear now? If you remove soup from a container, you should boil up all of the contents and store the uneaten portion in a clean container. Ideally, you would use it all up for that meal. Reheating won’t improve the quality of your food, but it will help it keep a little longer.

  7. bracha goldman says:

    great – thanks

  8. Our apartment complex was without electricity for several days.

    1. Would refrigerated coffee still be safe? (beans; not ground)

    2. Powdered Cinnamon in a bag? Cinnamon in Tupperware?

    Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Amy,
      What a frustrating experience.
      1. From what I’ve read, coffee beans keep a very long time and don’t need to be refrigerated. Ground coffee would be safe, but the quality would suffer.
      2. Powdered cinnamon is fine.

  9. Thank you, Hannah.

    I have more specifics about the coffee: The coffee (whole bean) had been opened, and then stored in the refrigerator – and still in its original bag; not in an airtight container. It had been there for about a week or two after opening, while still being used.

    Then, the power outage.

    I’m wondering if any water condensation might have fostered bacteria in that four day interim.

    Thanks!

  10. Sorry to be annoying; LOL, they were roasted, as beans usually are, and then bagged.

    So, I’m saying I purchased bags from Starbucks, roasted full beans, then opened the bags and refrigerated, still in their original bags.

    ?

    Thanks for your help.

  11. Yes, I’ve got it now!! Once coffee beans have been roasted they have a limited shelf life.
    Hannah recently posted..Ten Tips for Cooking with a Disability or InjuryMy Profile

  12. Me again! :D

    So, limited shelf life; maybe I should just dump them, to be safe? (The bags were open (sealed, but “open” in the sense that they were no longer “new” – but only in the fridge for about a week when we had the outage).

    Thanks again for your time and help.

    Thanks.

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