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Feb 21, 2011 03:50 PM

Food Overnight in Sealed Container. Ok to Eat?

I left some hamburger helper out overnight and I put it in the fridge when I got up this morning. Is it okay to eat?

First off, I'm here because google brought me here when I searched that very question and witnessed some detailed discussion about the topic. However, I have a twist to my question. The food I left out was in a sealed tupperware container. Most of the discussion I read referred to airborne bacteria, gently dismissing the idea for another medium of contamination, wouldn't the food be safe to eat because it was sealed?

Secondly, I have another question. Typically, if I leave food out, it's because I already cleaned up the kitchen and put the food into sealed containers. However, I have been told that putting hot food in the fridge will cause it to spoil. I always had assumed it had to do with the trapped moisture. Since hearing this, I typically leave food on the counter until it cools. In the event of a night like my last, I fall asleep and forget. Opinions on this?

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  1. If you have your typical leftovers, they are cool by the time dinner is over assuming we're talking about a couple cups maximum and not a whole lasagna. If they are not really hot, you can put them right in the frig. The worry for large amounts of hot food is that it will stay in the "warm" zone for too long which is where bacteria thrive. Whether your leftovers could be bad would be determined by how hot they were and how cold your kitchen was. But as they say "If in doubt, throw it out."

    9 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      Food was left on the stove while eating. Stove was off but burner was probably still cooling down as well, on simmer. Put food in tupperware after done eating. House temperature is 71*.

      1. re: rrasco

        If it was me, I'd probably boil it and eat it, but that's not advice I'd give to anyone else. But then I let cats walk across my kitchen counters.

        1. re: escondido123

          My cats walk all over my counter. I'm not really concerned, I'm microwaving it right now as a matter of fact. I've always eaten stuff in the past, I guess I just got lucky. Historically, food was left out before refrigeration was readily available. Much longer than we are used to. I find my comfort in that.

          1. re: rrasco

            But in those days they didn't live as long.

            1. re: escondido123

              Haha. Good Point. I'll make sure not to make it a habit of it.

              I was thinking about what you said about the center of food staying in the danger zone. Using that theory, doesn't the food stay in that temperature range whether in the fridge or not? Where does it being in the fridge change a variable in the equation?

              1. re: rrasco

                Large amounts of food should be cooled a bit before going into the fridge because it could take quite a while to get the temp below 40, where you start to worry. For example, when I make a lot of chicken stock, I will either let it cool for a while on the stovetop, or immerse it in an ice bath in my sink.
                Smaller quantities and food that 's been off heat while we eat dinner gets packaged up and placed in the fridge right away. It's cooled enough.

              2. re: escondido123

                The reason average life expectancy rates were so low back then, was mainly because rates of newborn deaths were EXTREMELY high. People commonly lived to 60 or 70 back then.

              3. re: rrasco

                Before the age of refrigeration many peolpe probably died of stomach poisoning, and even today we often say
                someone has the stomach flu when they actually have food posioning

          2. Many health depts will tell you that food should not be eaten after its been in the danger zone -- between 40-140 -- more than 4 hours. Food service uses blast chillers or things like those big paddles filled with ice to stir pots of food and more quickly bring temps down before going into the fridge. If you cook the food, eat the food, let it sit on the counter to cool for an hour, then let it get below 40 in the fridge, you generally can do that within the 4 hours. Then a reheat for leftovers.

            Of course, I have spoken to people who cook chili and leave it on the stove, burner off, overnight. No deaths yet. Chili in the danger zone for probably 8 or more hours.

            Its all playing the odds. Idea is to minimize risks best as possible.

            1. I would reheat and take my chances. I don't think the "sealed" makes a difference because any bacteria that were going to cause problems were there before you put the lid on.

              I have made chicken stock, poured it into my storage containers (gasp, cheapo plastic things that probably release BPA when I nuke them to defrost) and let them sit on the counter to cool, lids laid loosely on top, presumably 'til Hubster gets home (swing shift) to put them in the freezer for me.... and gotten up the next morning to see them still on the counter. (Apparently, I have to leave a note, every time!?) I'm too much of a tightwad to pitch it. I figure that when I use the stock, it is in a risotto or soup dish that is going to get boiled or heated to a high enough temp to kill any bad bugs that developed while my stock sat out overnight.

              I know this is not optimal food safety protocol. My "magic" house would not get an A from the health dept. I do, however, try to minimize risk by using bleach spray to clean my kitchen, sinks and fridge shelves, etc., wash hands/surfaces with zeal and take all cross-contamination precautions when handling raw meat... stuff like that. But my sense of what's okay and not okay to eat is really off. I'm the person who will eat the work potluck food (some would consider this brave in and of itself) that has been left sitting on the table for hours, but would freak out if I saw someone double-dipping.

              1 Reply
              1. re: CapreseStacy

                I was going to say 'way to go" until I saw that you'd freak over the double dipping. But you rock for eating the work potluck food.

              2. I have taken the course for food handlers, which is where you learn all about the danger zone. I am sure I have left foods in the danger zone, but I have never in my life had any real sickness from food--I;ve never had any real sickness period. I think it is focused on in restaurants where you are dealing with large quantities of food and people--the large volume can take way to long to cool properly and the large number of patrons can mean many people getting sick.

                1 Reply
                1. re: escondido123

                  If serving food to a large group of people annd there is a choice between chaffing pans and just setting it out I would think the thinking person would choose the chaffing pans not worth the risk of making many people sick

                2. Putting hot food in the fridge won't cause it to spoil. It'll cool much more quickly in the fridge than on the counter, just leave the cover off till it's cooled. Giving a stir once or twice while it's cooling helps too.

                  Does this advice count if I typed it while eating pizza that's been on the counter overnight?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sccrash

                    Absolutely. I was actually thinking about how many times I've seen people eat pizza from the night before, left openly out on a counter overnight, with no issues.

                    BTW, I ate the hamburger helper. No issues so far!

                    1. re: sccrash

                      Depending on how hot and how much, putting it in the fridge may raise the internal temp of the fridge enough to damage the rest of the contents. Your dairy may turn sour and the temporary warming may cause spoilage of leftovers, encourage mold growth, etc. While it's okay to put a container of warm food into the refrigerator, it is better to cool food as much as possible before moving it there.