My food is left out in the open. Can I still eat it?

Once in awhile, we all get distracted from eating our food — maybe we were watching an exciting episode of Games of Thrones, or we were busy catching up with a friend. When our attention is finally back to our plates, or food has turn cold and appears much less appealing.

Can we still eat the food that is exposed for a long period of time? And how long is too long? Can I salvage it by cooking it again?

BoxGreen squirrels are here to help.


Firstly, when in doubt, throw it out!

Bacterial contamination is not visible nor does it always smell bad. The molds we see on the surface of the food may already have rooted inside for awhile.

Many people underestimate the severity of food poisoning. Yes, you do not always get ill after eating something bad. But you might, and we’re telling you that food poisoning is no walk in the park.


shelf life

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Rule of thumb – leave it not for longer than 2 hours.

According to FDA, Potentially hazardous foods (such as unshelled eggs, raw meats, fish, dairy products) that has been left in the open for more than 2 hours should be discarded. Note that the 2 hours is cumulative! This means the shelf life of a food does not “reset” just because you put it back into the fridge for a day. However, government agencies tend make very conservative recommendations — again, eat at your own risk.

For shelf life for different kinds of food, you can refer to this comprehensive infographic chart.


re-cooking food

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No, you can’t “salvage” exposed food by cooking it again.

Cooking food is only super effective (Pokemon pun intended) against living organisms, but not their toxic waste products. Cooking is pasteurization, not sterilization. Pasteurization kills most microbes, and render the food safe for human consumption. On the other hand, Sterilization (e.g. pressure-canning and irradiation) enables longer-term food storage in room temperature.

To avoid risks of food poisoning, keep cooked food hot until ready to eat, then refrigerate the left overs immediately. You can even separate larger food into smaller containers to help them to cool more quickly. When defrosting your food, run it under cold tap water and not leave it to cool in exposed air for too long.

food storage

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No, your ziploc bag is not good enough.

Food can only remain sterile under an airtight seal, for example when they are properly canned or vacuum-sealed. Once it is opened and is exposed to any contact with air, it is no longer sterile. Believe it or not, the air around contains many bacteria and molds, and their spores will readily colonize any “new home” they can find; and just so it happens, cooked food tends to be a hot spot for them.

So, there you go. Moral of the story? Eat your dinner first before starting an episode of GOT.
Or get some portion controlled snacks from BoxGreen so you don’t have to worry about leftovers and food wastage. 😉


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