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Oct 10, 2011 03:11 AM

Food Safety Question: Homemade chicken/ vegetable stock at Room Temperature

I left some stock at room temperature for 4 hours. It was made from chicken breasts and vegetables in a Crock Pot.

Should I toss this? Will boiling it before use make it safe?

Thank you.

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  1. Was it actually at room temp for four hours or was it cooling down in the slow cooker after you shut it off? Either way, your stock is most likely contaminated. Your stock was held between 40° and 140° for four hours, if at room temp; that's four hours in the temperature danger zone. Stock needs to be cooled down rapidly and refrigerated promptly. If you shut off the slow cooker, and you ran it on high, which could be upwards of 300° depending on your model, and the stock was cooling in the cooker, it still may be ok, but this is just speculation on my part. Next time put on a timer, leave the kitchen light on, put a note on your pillow, tell someone, whatever, just so you won't forget.

    Stock is a perishable product with the potential for rapid bacterial growth. Even with proper handling, I always bring stock to a boil again before using in other dishes. Boiling your stock again may kill off the multitudes of bacteria that have reproduced in it, but why take a chance.

    I tend to play fast and loose with food safety sometimes, but in this case I would toss it.

    1. To be honest, it also depends what "room temperature" we are talking about. A cool room temperature like 60 degree F or (15 degree C) is much better than say a warm room temperature like 100 degree F (or 37 degree C).

      Boiling the stock for a few minute will kill the bacteria. However, some bacteria produce toxins as they multiply, and those toxins cannot be destroyed by boiling.

      "Staphylococcus (Staph)

      Staph bacteria grow very rapidly, especially in foods with high protein content such as meat, beans, and dairy products. When these foods are not properly kept hot or cold, the bacteria multiply and produce a toxin that cannot be destroyed by additional cooling or cooking. Once the contaminated food is eaten, the poison affects the digestive tract."

      That being said, it is likely to be ok than not. It is really up to you.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        But chem, 60 degrees is still 20 degrees above safe holding temp and into the danger zone. Sure, bacteria will multiply more slowly at a lower temp, but they're still multiplying.

        "those toxins cannot be destroyed by boiling." This is my biggest concern here and why I'd personally toss it. You can't know if the product is, or to what extreme, contaminated.

        Regardless, it's up to the OP. Then there's the adage, "when in doubt..."

        1. re: bushwickgirl

          Definitely, 60 degree is still a temperature where organisms can survive and mutliple. The salt content in the stock also makes a difference. It will be more difficult for bacteria to multiple in a highly salted stock (not that you should salt your stock for that reason).

          On the other hand, there are often bacteria in our foods. The question is how much is in there. The way I was thinking is that if the stock was made at boiling condition, then the pot and its content would be "sanitized" for hours. So it should start with very little bacteria in the first place.

          I just googled "when in doubt" and found so many "when in doubt" quotes. It looks like the original poster went with this one:

          "When in doubt, one can rarely go wrong by going public.

          James E. Rogers "


          I like this one:

          "When in doubt or danger, run in circles, scream and shout."

          Laurence J. Peter

          4-hours does seem like a long time.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            My personal favorite is "when in doubt, punt."

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              Not to get too pedantic (or so I say as I charge full steam into pedantry), but the 'danger zone' is sort of an oversimplification. It works as a rule of thumb because it's easy to remember and apply. But just for example: a thin liquid medium like stock is actually not in any real danger from bacteria at 130 degrees held indefinitely, and not in much danger at 120-130. A more viscous liquid (or solid) meanwhile could be in danger from bacterial contamination at 120 or 130 if held there long enough.

              Likewise, staph reproduce significantly slower at 60 degrees than they do at, say, 90. Basically, the 'danger zone' rule was formulated around the notion that you can hold a contamination-prone foodstuff at the riskiest temperature range (about 85-105, depending on the bacteria) for 4 hours and still have food that's reliably safe.

              Your question earlier was very pertinent - did the stock slowly cool to room temp over a period of a few hours before those '4 hours' started, or was it just held off the heat for 4 hours before being refrigerated? And when it was refrigerated, was it cooled rapidly or just kept in a large container and put in the fridge? Was the stock uncovered at any point while it sat out? Did anyone stick a just-licked spoon in the pot? Is the cook feeling sneezy?

              The basic point, I guess, is the little details actually do matter quite a bit in determining the likelihood of staph-bourne food poisoning (as Chem points out, anything else of consequence can get killed or denatured through bringing the stock to a high temperature again and holding it there for a few minutes).

          2. I wouldn't toss it. Forget the specific science for a moment, since this doesn't even pass the common sense test.

            When you're at a party, how long does the food stay out?

            How long does food stay out at a buffet?

            Here's the big one: Your stock was covered, right? Odds are the cooking process killed off whatever was potentially harmful. So...

            8 Replies
            1. re: ediblover

              "When you're at a party, how long does the food stay out?"

              That is silly. In a party, you drink enough alcohol to kill off all the germs inside your body.

              P.S.: this is a joke.

              1. re: ediblover

                The suggestion that the stock was covered (only the OP knows for sure) makes it more likely that the stock may have passed it's prime, as the temperature of the liquid would have been maintained at a higher unsafe point, rather than without the lid, which would have allowed the stock to cool a bit more rapidly, but not well enough to prevent bacterial growth. Then there's also the question of possible air borne contamination on food left uncovered...

                It's not the cooking process and the temperature in the slow cooker while the stock was simmering that's the issue here; it's the lack of improper and timely cooling after the stock was off the heat.

                At this point, it's impossible to know the condition of the stock without testing it. Since this equation has unknown variables, as cowboyardee pointed out, tossing specific science out the door isn't the answer.

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  "The suggestion that the stock was covered (only the OP knows for sure) makes it more likely that the stock may have passed it's prime, as the temperature of the liquid would have been maintained at a higher unsafe point, rather than without the lid, which would have allowed the stock to cool a bit more rapidly, but not well enough to prevent bacterial growth."
                  But keeping the pot covered also prevents contamination from live staph in the first place, which is a good deal more important in this case than a marginal difference in the rate of cooling.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    So, the devil is in the details here, but I see the OP has decided to toss.

                    I did mention air borne...

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Have to agree with everything bushwickgirl has said here. Stock is problematic. While there are many bacteria that get killed during cooking, some of them produce toxins and it these toxins are not inactiviated at cooking/boiling temperatures.

                      1. re: scoopG

                        You refer to staph aureus. It requires both a portal of contamination and enough time in favorable conditions to multiply and then secrete its enterotoxin. Food poisoning isn't magic or alchemy. The question in this case is 'was the stock left out long enough that staph could be a problem?" The actual answer isn't 'of course' but 'it depends.' 4 hours was not necessarily long enough to be any danger if there was low risk of contamination in the first place and the stock was quickly brought to a safer temperature after those 4 hours.

                        American food safety courses have long been teaching information that is drastically oversimplified and not based in sound microbiology.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Four hours in the food danger zone (40-140 F) is well more than enough for me.

                          1. re: scoopG

                            But is it enough for the microbial processes we're discussing? I don't personally care whether any individual chooses to play it extra safe with foodbourne illnesses. People with medical conditions (already ill, GI issues, immunosuppressed, pregnant, etc) are wise to do so. I'm just trying to give a more realistic idea of the actual factors in food safety. People are surprisingly resistant to this information.

                            The 'danger zone' rule is a very simplistic account of the complex relationship between various bacteria, time, and temperature.

              2. Thanks for all the feedback...I am tossing it! After the crockpot cooled down, it was probably at around 65 degrees.

                1. Honestly, I'd guess that it would be just fine. Crockpots are designed to hold a LOT of heat and to be very well insulated. That ceramic crock takes hours to heat up (which is why they warn you NOT to put anything frozen into it - it sits there incubating goodness knows what for hours before it gets hot enough to sterilise itself), and just as long to cool off again. If the lid was on and nobody messed with it after that, then the stuff was sterile and there's nothing to grow.

                  Broth is a good bacteria growth medium - but the bacteria has to get in there first! A boiling pot is sterile, and if the lid is on it and STAYS ON IT, it's not very likely that anything germy is going to get in in a few hours.