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How do people end up leaving so much food out for extended periods?

So many posts on food left out overnight. How does this happen to so many hounds? It seems like people who value good food and enjoy cooking would not be the ones to forget to follow through and put it away. You spend your time and money on the food, eat half of it, then completely forget about it? I don't get it. Do you not clean your kitchen after dinner? Or even go in there for a glass of water at any period between dinner and bedtime and notice the pot on the stove? I can see forgetting to put food away if I'm really drunk or something, but that is not my usual state and hopefully not normal for most of us...

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  1. We have a warming oven, and though this rarely happens, sometimes I don't realize that my husband has left stuff in there...

    1 Reply
    1. re: roxlet

      Ahhh, sneaky spouses, that must be the problem!

    2. Don't always clean the kitchen after dinner.
      Get glass of water from bathroom.
      Expect someone else to put away the food.

      It's not that hard to do.

      1. We often assume other one has taken care of it.

        1. I think it's related to alcohol or sex, usually both. When I survey my home on Sunday morning and it resembles an indoor landfill, I expect everyone had a good time. Next step before cleanup is determining who is still in the house.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Veggo

            Both = best reason. Who cares about leftovers when preoccupied?

            1. re: EM23

              Besides, that covered pot of aphrodisiacal elixir (aka soup) will be Just. Fine. on the stovetop overnight. Just get on with the other stuff.

            2. re: Veggo

              Ha! reading the post's title, I was thinking along the same lines. However, I'm not sure I would have written such a concise, succinct response...

              1. re: Veggo

                I was gonna clean the kitchen...but then I got high.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    And when the munchies kick in, there is food readily available. *grin*

                    I'm with everyone else; sh!t happens. We don't always take care of things right away.

              2. It's just an oversight--many of us have busy lives, busy careers, etc., and it's easy to overlook something. Not much different than forgetting where you placed your keys. I've done it and, yes, I DO clean my kitchen.

                Or alcohol or sex, as per Veggo.

                1. You make stock and it's done when dinner is over. You turn it off, clean up the kitchen, turn off the lights and then go off to do something else. Later you go to bed. In the morning, you find stock sitting on the stove in the kitchen.

                  1. Huh, I thought married people didn't have sex. Or is that why it's such a distraction when it happens? ;)

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: babette feasts

                      Huh, I thought sexual people didn't cook...

                      1. re: babette feasts

                        Maybe foodies don't because of the chance of leaving out perfectly good chicken stock, "Not tonight dear, I made chicken stock."

                        1. re: chowser

                          I tried that excuse once, and it really annoyed her.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Such irony because it's such a turn on when a guy can make a good chicken stock.:-)

                        2. we often leave dinner out because we'll sometimes have a late night snack of it, maybe after going out for a nightcap or two. sometimes we put it away, sometimes we forget. and the food is more often than not NOT ruined the next day, we've never gotten sick over leaving anything out (i'm talking cooked pork or beef usually, not chicken and we never have fish since he doesn't like it) so it's not like we're wasting food. sometimes the kitchen gets cleaned the same night, immediately after dinner, sometimes very late at night, sometimes the next day. we're certainly not stressed about it.

                          1. I blame everything on my crack addiction.

                            1. Spousal miscommunication
                              Leaving something to rest (e.g. sauce) and forgetting about it.

                              *cf Veggo

                              1. I'm a single lazy slob. (that excuse trumps all other excuses including sex and booze!) (*)


                                (*) but it does not happen often.

                                1. I think that the people who post about this are not the ones that do it all the time. They post about it precisely because it isn't normal for them to leave food out accidentally, and they want advice. (Never mind that this is just about _the most useless thing_ to ask for advice about on Chowhound…)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                                    You're right, the people who don't worry about it...don't worry about it and don't post about it either.

                                  2. Some people aren't uptight about such matters. Some people aren't OCD when it comes to cleaning. My parents come from an Asian country with tropical weather where they often leave food out, so I grew up a bit casual about such things (but less casual than my parents).

                                    I also don't always wash my hands before eating.

                                    1. The only time that it happens to me are the "let it cool down a little before putting it in the fridge" moments.

                                      Big pot of hot soup - casseroles - etc

                                      1. I was starting to feel all superior to people here when I remembered that a few months ago, my local upscale supermarket had a great deal on Beef Shanks -- they had labeled them "Soup Bones" and priced them at about $1.49 per pound, as opposed to the $5 or so they normally charge. So I bought a dozen packages, brought them home... and promptly forgot about them in the hot car. Left them at least a full day in the trunk in a hot garage.

                                        When I suddenly remembered them, I was tempted to throw them out, but I'm too cheap. So I chucked them in the freezer and figured I could at least give them to the dogs. Some weeks later I came back to them, gave them a good scrub and a good sniff, and they smelled fine. So I braised them up and they were delicious... and the dogs got the bones anyway.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: acgold7

                                          I think that's my main reason, I'm too cheap. Haven't gotten sick yet, and until I do, I will play Russian Roulette. It's never on purpose, just something that cooked a long time and needs to cool off. I fall asleep before that happens sometimes.

                                          1. re: coll

                                            I used the word "cheap" to be funny, but it's more of a philosophical thing... I think throwing away food is a sin. Unless it's clearly gone bad, I always try to find a way to resuscitate it. Not always successful.

                                            1. re: acgold7

                                              Heh, I still haven't found the perfect go-to use of flour that gets unused when breading something.

                                              1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                I sift it and freeze it. Sometimes I bake it first on a low oven for a while -- lets me fool myself into thinking it's safer.

                                                1. re: FoodPopulist

                                                  I also save it in the freezer if it's not from meat, although I seldom remember to use it. Let's start a thread of the cheapest things you do in the kitchen!

                                                  1. re: coll

                                                    Because of this thread, I remembered to take my flour out of the freezer and used to fry some flounder for Christmas Eve. Don't know if I'll bother saving it anymore, to tell the truth.

                                            2. For me it is a matter of falling asleep in the couch while watching tv. I was going to put the food away after dinner but then I thought someone might want seconds and then I got comfortable and then fell asleep. So at 3am when I woke up sore and stiff on the couch I realized that the food still had to go into the fridge.

                                              1. There have been times that I've put food out of sight on top of the refrigerator or behind other things on a counter to prevent our cats from getting to it, then I plain forgot about it.

                                                I do get tired of the threads that keep cropping up. They are practically carbon copies of each other and they almost never provide a definitive answer to the OP's question. Unfortunately, there's a lot of uninformed advice given by people who don't distinguish between potentially hazardous foods and those that are not; don't understand the difference between food possibly contaminated by pathogenic bacteria or the toxins they release and simple food spoilage; don't take into account the length of time that the food has been left out or the temperature; assume that because something smells fine, it must be safe; or assume that because they've never gotten sick before, it must be safe.

                                                I have no problem with people taking risks for themselves. I've certainly done it. I am, however, uncomfortable with advising others that it's OK to do so. I think it is better to explain the risk, even when it is low, and let others decide for themselves whether they are willing to take that risk.

                                                10 Replies
                                                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                    Don't you think personal experience counts for something? If everyone has eaten food left out for x amount of time and no one has ever gotten sick, that means something, doesn't it?

                                                    1. re: joonjoon

                                                      How many people participate in this kind of thread? Ten? Twenty? That's hardly a reliable poll. You'd need hundreds or thousands to make a plausible argument that a particular practice is safe. And the fact that people have never gotten sick doesn't mean that they won't at some point in the future, if they continue to take risks.

                                                      If you believe what many write in these threads, food poisoning is a figment of the imagination. No one ever really gets it. That flies in the face of reports that there are an estimated several hundred thousand cases of it each year in the US. Most are not serious or deadly, but a small percentage are. My worst encounter with food poisoning was during a food trade show of all places. I was holed up in my hotel room in Chicago for three days, because I felt too sick to get on a plane and fly home. That's an experience I hope never to repeat.

                                                      In this very thread, someone bragged about cooking beef shanks that had been left in the steaming trunk of a car during the day and then overnight in a hot garage. That is so far outside of food safety guidelines that I would never recommend that anyone even think about doing that. I'm glad she did not become ill, but she very well could have.

                                                      People want to believe that, because it's CH, every post is written by an expert. That's far from true. In the small number of areas in which I can claim something approaching expertise (cheese obviously being one of them), I see plenty of misinformation and bad advice along with the good information and advice. I have to assume that the same holds true for topics about which I'm less knowledgeable.

                                                      As for food safety, I had to learn the guidelines and be certified when I was involved professionally with food. I've bent the rules many times in my personal life, but always with the knowledge of how far I was bending them in the particular situation and how much of a risk I was taking.

                                                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                          I completely agree with everything you are saying, particularly about how anecdotal evidence is not statistical and therefore not reliable.

                                                          But I certainly wasn't "bragging" about my Beef Shanks experience, only using it as an illustration of how many of these "guidelines" are written by bureaucrats whose only goal is to cover their butts and who assume the public is too stupid to understand the theory. These are the same people who until recently told you to cook your Pork to 185, and will never recognize the real scientific evidence that anything that can hurt you on a raw Turkey is dead at 137F. They just chant "165...165..." like a mantra because they don't think you can understand or remember that anything held at 140 for a half-hour is probably completely safe.

                                                          And I happen to be a he.

                                                          1. re: acgold7

                                                            Mea culpa for referring to you as "she." I shouldn't have made any assumption about your gender.

                                                            The primary reason that food safety experts recommend that poultry be cooked to a higher temperature than other meats, such as beef, is that poultry is more likely to be contaminated by a wide variety of bacteria at those gigantic poultry processing plants. If you buy your chicken from a local farmer, you'll probably be safe at a lower temperature.

                                                            The public is not too stupid to understand food safety, but because most people don't believe anything bad will happen to them, they don't care to learn about the guidelines.

                                                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                              I always assume that my poultry is contaminated. Statistics say that about one in three commercial chickens or Turkeys are crawling with Salmonella, but given the way they wash them, in huge tanks of fecal soup, I'm surprised it isn't 100%.

                                                              But I know the nasties are only on the skin and cavity, not inside the meat, and the oven temps kill them nearly instantly. By the time the interior of the meat hits 140 they're all long gone.

                                                              E. Coli on beef is a tougher bug, but it again isn't inside the meat, only on the surface (except for ground meat). So by the time I'm done searing or blowtorching the roast, I feel pretty confident.

                                                              Braising or Frying are even better, as these methods are better conductors of heat than dry-roasting.

                                                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                                note to hounds: when invited to acgold7's place for beef shanks, ask if they've been cooked fresh, or if they sat around 12 hrs unrefrigerated

                                                                ...just playin' ac : )

                                                                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                                  Don't worry, those are all gone. Fresh only from now on.

                                                              2. re: acgold7

                                                                FWIW, you should've called your shanks "dry-aged" and sold them for 40x cost. ;)

                                                                (I can't - just CAN'T - be the only person that thought of that, can I?)

                                                        2. My favorite threads are the ones that say: "I was out in the woods and found some mushrooms, are they safe to eat?"

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: bitsubeats

                                                            Quickest answer to that one - 'if you have a death wish'... :P

                                                            1. re: bitsubeats

                                                              very few (in my northeast forests anyway) are truly poisonous...many are safe and tasty when sauteed, many will give you a belly ache, much the same as food improperly stored

                                                            2. I nearly did it tonight. I have family in from out of town, so I cooked a turkey - roasting the dark and wings and poaching the breast. Started the back and oddments simmering for stock, and as the rest of the meat finished cooking and people ate what they wanted, I deboned the leftovers and added the bones to the stock. Once the poached meat was done, I added the poaching liquid to the stock and cleaned the kitchen.

                                                              People ate dinner. I cleaned the kitchen and admired my stock. People ate dessert, I cleaned the kitchen and admired my stock. Everyone went back to their hotel, and I cleared away all the spare dishes, then collapsed in a chair with some water. An hour later I said "I should turn off the stock, or it's going to be too hot to strain and refrigerate tonight." I admired the stock, turned the pot off and went back to my chair, content that it was "done" and just waiting to be put away. When I was ready for bed I went to put my water glass in the kitchen and said "Why is there a pot on the stove? Oh! I had turkey stock! I need to fridge that!"

                                                              If I'd just said "Oh, I'll put that in the dishwasher in the morning...." I'd have come down in the morning to very cold, very bacteria-laden turkey stock, and had to toss it all, despite having been in and out for hours, including several times in the hour or so between turning the stock off and rediscovering it. I'd just gotten used to seeing a big pot on the stove.

                                                              7 Replies
                                                              1. re: flourless

                                                                Hi, flourless: "I'd have come down in the morning to very cold, very bacteria-laden turkey stock, and had to toss it..."

                                                                That may well have been the *decision* you would have come to, but it would not necessarily have been unsafe to simply reboil (yes, I know that there are toxins made by bacteria that can survive this). And if you prepared the stock correctly and left it lidded overnight, I submit to you that it would not have been "bacteria-laden" when you started your coffee the next morning.

                                                                Frankly, a big pot of hot stock takes hours to cool, even in an icebath or a freezer. How paranoid does one have to get? Immersion chill coils fed by enormous glycol compressor-coolers?

                                                                Count me as one who sometimes intentionally leaves food out overnight, in case of midnight snackage. IMO, there are certain things, e.g., last night's ragu or the day before's Tarte Tatin, that actually improve, flavor and texture-wise after resting at room temperature overnight.


                                                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                  Same for our squirrel and rabbit stew, in '74, on low heat for 3 months. We (an alpha group in a Harvard victorian) added critters and veggies when the pot depleted to about 5 inches. Westwood, MA. Summer critter fleas were an obstacle. Hi to Alan.

                                                                    1. re: Veggo

                                                                      I need to know more about this stew.

                                                                        1. re: joonjoon

                                                                          Pretty much cabbage, white beans, carrots, corn off the cob, rabbit and squirrel thighs braised in bacon fat, seasonings, and liquid, frequently replenished. No oppossum or raccoon was allowed. Pheasant would have been welcome but I don't recall that anyone killed one.

                                                                    2. re: flourless

                                                                      If you had cooked the stock for hours, and left the lid on, why would it have been contaminated by leaving it out of the fridge overnight? Any bacteria should have been killed in the cooking, and if lidded, the pot should have remained uncontaminated. Perhaps the pot was not lidded?

                                                                      I have left a partially eaten turkey carcass out overnight, eaten more of the meat, and lived to tell the tale. I don't recommend this, but we have never been sick from eating this particular thing. Part of the problem with a turkey is the room the roaster would take up in the fridge. I now would take the whole thing out of the roaster and place it in more compact storage.

                                                                      At any rate, I think we should cut new cooks some slack about being worried about leaving food out of the fridge overnight. Many of these newbies did not grow up in families that did serious cooking, and they have heard so many cautions about food spoilage, they are quite cautious, and perhaps careless too if they forget to store leftovers. People should not feel judged when they have basic questions, IMO.

                                                                    3. I pretty much NEVER leave food out. And that's basically because I'm type-A and all uptight about having things in order and put away. Yay me.

                                                                      1. Since we eat in the living room and then retire to the computer/craft room or the bedroom to watch tv, it's fairly easy to get distracted enough to forget to put something away if you were leaving it out to cool. I solved that problem by leaving the kitchen light on until EVERYTHING is put away. Look down the hallway and see the light on and you know that you still have to go back out there and take care of something.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Kajikit

                                                                          I do exactly the same thing. I'm a compulsive light-turner-offer, so if I've fought against habit and left a light on in the kitchen, it's a reminder that there was something in there I needed to do. At my age, I sometimes forget what that was once I get there. But at least I know I had something important in mind.

                                                                          1. re: JoanN

                                                                            "At my age, I sometimes forget what that was once I get there. But at least I know I had something important in mind."

                                                                            Love it! Can definitely relate. Unfortunately my problem is falling asleep on the couch, lights or not, then when I wake up I can just make it up to bed. Love that it's cold enough to leave stuff in the garage now, it's actually slightly colder than the fridge. I'm in better shape the next morning to take care of things. Just redistributed my Christmas leftovers a few minutes ago.

                                                                        2. Food can't get left out at our place: with 3 scavenging cats who are on calorie restricted diets, we just can't leave food on the counter. Having said that, we store stuff in the oven after serving if we don't have a lid for the pot or pan in question -- pop it in the second oven to keep safe from foraging felines. This is where, from time to time, things get forgotten. We'll clean the kitchen, not check the second, non-cooking oven, and something may be there. Depending on the item, we'll either eat it or chuck it out. Bread rolls? Keep. Samosas? Keep. Worst moment was beautiful steak done rare, on a cutting board. Didn't find that til the next evening when I went looking for it (what did I do with the steak????) I had to pitch that out. Sigh. I've taken to putting on the oven light to remind me that something is in there, but if I forget to turn that light or if I don't want to mildly heat the oven with the light on, there may be a surprise there in the morning LOL.

                                                                          1. Sometimes the food is so good, and you're so sated and exhausted, that you fall asleep right after eating.
                                                                            Either that, or you fall asleep before getting up to put the soup or stock that's cooling off away.

                                                                            I try to use JoanN's method of leaving the kitchen light on as a reminder, but it doesn't work if sleep sneaks up on you before you manage to get back to the kitchen.
                                                                            (I suppose it makes a difference whether you eat in the kitchen or not. I never eat in the kitchen.)

                                                                            1. Back when we had young cats we NEVER left anything edible out uncovered. Now we have a semi-recluse who won't come downstairs and a wheezing, overweight 17-year-old, I'm likely to leave stuff out if it's not perishable (a much wider range of things than Americans tend to think) and there's no fridge room. The only mishap lately was when Mrs. O packed up the 200-some rum balls we'd made in little gift boxes for her co-workers, put them in a shopping bag, and left it by the back door so she wouldn't forget it in the morning. She forgot about the whippet's Tendencies … when I came down in the morning and walked into the den, where the dog hangs out, the floor was covered with little green boxes. Fortunately, only two had been opened and emptied. Unfortunately, those two were for her supervisors (but they're good sports). And Elva seemed none the worse for her ingestion of a little chocolate and rum.

                                                                              1. I worry about it if the food is RAW meat or fish. Cooked (and covered) food? Not so much. Long-simmered soups and stews, braises - I would be *purposefully* leaving it out (covered) in the pot, at least overnight. (for a 2nd night - depends on what it is and what i've done with it that day)

                                                                                1. Babette, don't presume to know the minds of your fellow hounds. Too much to drink, other myriad distractions, ADD, please cut us some slack. We all have our strengths and challenges.

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                                                                    I don't presume to know your minds, that's why I asked. It seems like such a simple thing, which is why I was baffled. Now I have come to realize that my life is a perfect storm of conditions for remembering to put food away. I've cooked professionally for 15 years, so it is deeply ingrained. Whatever I've made at work is not finished until it is labeled and put away, so I'm constantly making sure everything is accounted for, and that doesn't just stop the minute I get home. No spouse, offspring, heavy drinking habit or pets to distract me, and my home is quite compact, so the kitchen is never far - no out of sight, out of mind in this casa. So to my mind, it takes 2 minutes of consideration, it's not even a chore, it's looking forward to when I'm going to eat the rest of it. Dinner isn't finished until the table and stove are clear. Maybe I should admit I generally know where my keys are too. Some of us are wired that way. Clearly the people who are perfectly comfortable leaving their stock on the stove and re-boiling it the next day are not freaking out and posting about it. I suppose the people who post about it are the ones who put everything away 99% of the time, so that one time that something is left out is an anomaly and they don't know what to do.

                                                                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                                                                      I think you nailed it babette, I've always been forgetful - leaving food out isn't unusual for me. I've always eaten left-out food (and learned when to toss) and never knew it was such a big deal!