HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Left my lunch on the counter before work. Safe to eat?

I'm super frustrated. I made a huge pot of chicken chili (with shredded chicken and chicken broth) last night and froze a bunch of leftovers for lunch. One serving was in a tightly-closed tupperware in the fridge overnight.

Anyway, this morning, I packed the one that was in the fridge in a lunch bag and FORGOT TO TAKE IT when I rushed out the door. Ugh! Anyway, I am wondering if it will be safe to eat when I get home tonight. It'll have been out at room temperature (which is not too warm) for 9-10 hours at that point.

Would it be ok to boil, or should I not risk it?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
    1. re: GretchenS

      Normally, I wouldn't either! But then I, you know, started thinking about it haha.

      1. re: Crankyrobot

        It was completely cooked. Ever leave out pasta and sauce? Next time just skip out of work!

      1. This is how I think about it when I am in such a situation... throwing out the food and wasting the money/effort that went into it is worth avoiding the potential hospital bill. I would not eat it!

        1. I'd get rid of this one serving and just be thankful the rest is in the freezer. Even if it's safe to eat, it's probably no longer fresh, so why eat food that isn't delicious?

          1. 2 hour rule for me, maybe a bit longer if I know the history of the food. Reheating might kill some of those nasties too...

            Too many experiences with coworkers bringing in leftovers from parties and events....scary stuff...

            1 Reply
            1. re: Raffles

              Me too. Especially with chicken, I just wouldn't chance it. Chicken is one of the foods I just won't mess around with.

              ETA: If I was OP, why not just pull one of the frozen ones and eat that? Why risk a horrid bout of food poisoning when there are perfectly good batches on hand?

            2. Give it a good boil and dig in! A few bacteria only improve the immune system.

              6 Replies
              1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                I totally agree! I would eat it without hesitation.

                1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                  Most likely it will be ok, but this advice is not sound, for two reasons.

                  1. Some food poisoning is caused by toxins produced by bacteria, and some of those toxins are heat-stable. If the bacteria are present and allowed to multiply, reheating will kill the bacteria but not necessarily destroy the toxin.

                  2. While an infection will train a healthy immune system to respond to a recurrence of the same infection more quickly, this will not protect a person from illness if pathogens are present in large quantities. Only a minor infection is necessary to build immunity, so there is no point in getting sick by ingesting large quantities of a pathogen as a strategy to "improve the immune system." Although most food poisoning is not fatal, a serious case can be, particularly for those with weak immune systems.

                  1. re: GH1618

                    Nevertheless, I eat food I've left on the counter all the time, and have only gotten food poisoning once in my life, and that was from a restaurant. I am aware that "there is no point in getting sick by ingesting large quantities of a pathogen as a strategy 'to improve the immune system.'" I was being a bit facetious. People take this stuff soooo seriously, and rightly so if you're working in the food industry (which I do, and I would never sell someone something that had sat at room temperature for any length of time, but boy would I eat it!) There is, I feel, a huge benefit to looking at most of life's dangers lightly. I see far more people sick from stress than I do from the many food-related dangers of the world.

                    But here's another dilemma: I have a friend who swears by eating food she finds on the ground. Outside. Often covered in dirt. God knows how long it's been there. I won't do it, because of the gritty feel in my mouth, but she never gets sick.

                    1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                      omg just omg
                      your friend should start dumpster diving for food too

                      1. re: foodcompletesme

                        I have enjoyed the fruits of a good dumpster dive. But no, not off the ground. No.

                        1. re: Crankyrobot

                          Please don't feel bad. How can that help? I have eaten, and not eaten stuff, largely based on "science".

                          Based on "science", for a $3.00/ pound chicken, it seems hard to justify eating something I wonder will make me too sick to work. Even if you lost the price of a chicken, and some labor.

                          I own a small business, and just 15 minutes of not being too sick to do what I do well, would cost me more than a few mediocre chickens.

                          For some cheeses,some pastrie, foi gras, scallops, fresh shrimp, different odds.

                2. Another who wouldn't think twice and I wouldn't "boil" it either

                  1. I hate to waste good food too, but it is not worth the risk.

                    I went away for a few days over the holidays and when I returned I realized I had left a final serving of homemade chicken tikka masala (a from scratch, involved recipe representing a lot of time & great taste) in the refrigerator.

                    In my heart, I knew it was past it's safe date, but hated to waste it. I did eat some but regretted it (how do I say this delicately? your intestines will let you know).
                    You don't want to have a negative association with chicken chili forever because of eating a bad serving.

                    Be safe, crankyrobot, be safe!

                    1. I think if you heat it to a low boil for ten minutes, you're golden. I wouldn't even give it that much, probably, but you can.

                      1. Depends on how much time you would be willing to spend visiting your friendly commode if things aren't quite right.

                        If it were 3-4 hours, I would, a whole work day, no unless you have PTO to burn.

                        1. I always eat food left out on counter for overnight all the time with no problem. How did people live without refrigerator before?

                            1. Boiling it doesn't necessarily make it safe.

                              I would not eat it.

                              1. so….what did you end up deciding? what was the outcome?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: foodcompletesme

                                  Well, I decided not to eat it. I probably normally just would have eaten it without thinking about it, but the problem is, I started thinking about it and overanalyzing. It's in my refrigerator because I couldn't bring myself to dump it (though I will when I get home tonight), and I know I'd probably be fine, but considering I'm going on a 10-day trip next week, I decided not to risk it.

                                  R.I.P. chili :(

                                2. I'd be eating it without a second thought.

                                  1. As jpc so eloquently answered, "Eat it." Sh*t, if it's tasty, I'd eat it cold off a dirty floor. Then again, I'm a 'hound - I sniff tails, howl at moons, catch frisbees in my teeth, and drink from bowls. What I don't do is succumb to the fear or weaknesses of others. Facts are, life ends and the strong survive.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: MGZ

                                      I have never been more disappointed in myself. I'm usually pretty hardcore as far as this stuff goes. Now it's the second day...hmmmm

                                    2. I use my personal egg rule.

                                      So, 9-10 hours? Yes, I would eat.

                                      In fact, I might leave it on the counter another hour or two. A bit of fermentation does wonders for chicken chili.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        OK, I'll bite. What's your personal egg rule, ipse?

                                      2. When in Doubt, THROW IT OUT!!!

                                        One serving is not worth potential gastrointestinal nastiness.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: bagelman01

                                          Ugghhh. Just ugghhh, ugghhh, ugghhh!

                                          1. re: bagelman01

                                            Exactly - couldnt agree more.

                                            But, then , I'd be in no doubt that it was going to be OK to eat.

                                          2. I never refrigerate my lunch that I eat at work (the refrigerators are always jam packed and dirty). I pack it at about 6:30am and by the time I eat at work it is anywhere from noon to 3pm. This means I have eaten many, many lunches that went unrefrigerated for anywhere from 5.5-8.5 hours and I am still alive to write about it. What's a few more hours? I would eat it. :)

                                            1. Unless you've got an unseasonable heat wave right now, I'd heat it thoroughly and eat it with no qualms. My husband would probably eat it as is, no heating necessary.