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Chicken Stock - Pressing Pause?

New to the boards, thought this would be the perfect place to ask my question. I did a topic search and couldn't find anything for this precise question, but there are many chicken stock threads; I apologize if I missed it!

I started making a chicken stock today and just found out I need to leave my place for a couple of hours. By this time the stock will have been simmering for a little over 5 hours (I simmer for 6 hours, minimum). I'm not comfortable with leaving on my gas stove while I'm out. Does anyone know if I would be able to leave the chicken stock out, unheated, for a couple of hours and then turn it back on to complete simmering, without ruining the stock?

FYI, I very laid back about my stock and don't fuss too much over cloudiness, etc. I don't care if pressing pause will cause any of those types of issues with my stock - I just want to know if it will spoil or generally taste icky this way.


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  1. Hi: I think you have two choices: 1) solar cook your broth (See solar cooking international website); or. 2) put it back in the frig until you return. I would not leave out any cooked/uncooked poultry due to contamination concerns. Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: muchi1966

      Putting a big hot pot of stock in the fridge is a bad idea, you will end up putting everything in the fridge at risk if you do that.

      I'd just put it in the oven on the setting closest to simmer, unless you are worried about keeping an oven on as well.

      Other than that I'll say what I always do: Pressure cooker

    2. for a couple of hours. . . I'm assuming 2 hours.

      While not scientific at all, and of course I'm not a food safety expert - so take this with those caveats . . . .

      I do this all the time and I've never died. You're simmering it for 5 hours (killed most everything) and then you're going to simmer for another hour . . . killing most everything again.

      I just cover my stock and pick back up where I left off. No problems and no clouding issues for me either. Next time I'm going to take the temp when I turn the stove off and then again when I turn it back on - because it always still seems very warm (I know - bacteria love warm - I'm just saying it doesn't seem to cool off that much).

      7 Replies
      1. re: thimes

        Just a quick web search . . . I still say you'll be fine - and it looks like these references support that, especially with simmering for another hour after your "time off" . . .

        Sous vide temperature safety zones can be summarized as follow:
        Sterilization zone: > 121°C (250°F) for at least 2.4 minutes
        Assured Pasteurization zone: > 63°C + (145.4°F)
        Start of Pasteurization zone: 60°C (140°F) – 63°C (145.4°F)
        Tolerance zone: 55°C (131°C) – 60°C (140°F)
        Danger zone: 50°C (122°F) – 55°C (131°F)
        Extreme Danger zone: 20°C (68°F) – 50°C (122°F)

        According to the Wilderness Medical Society…

        Water temperatures at 160° F (70° C) kill all pathogens within 30 minutes.
        Water temperatures above 185° F (85° C) kill all pathogens within a few minutes.

        So in the time it takes for water to reach the boiling point (212° F or 100° C) all pathogens will be killed, even at high altitude. The moment your drinking water reaches a rolling boil, the water has already become safe to drink.

        NOTE: Caveats regarding Safe Water Boil Times:

        Boiling water will NOT remove chemical toxins that may be present.

        1. re: thimes

          If it is a big pot, and you leave it covered, In two hours the temp will likely not drop below the 130F danger zone start. I have done this when I know I will only be gone an hour or two. I will usually up the burner for a few minutes to get the pot good and hot before I leave.

          1. re: firecooked

            and if you're going to return the stock to the simmer point upon your return home, then you'll re-attain the temperatures necessary to kill whatever could possibly have managed to start to populate the stock in the short time you were gone...

            1. re: sunshine842

              Hi, sunshine: "...you'll re-attain the temperatures necessary to kill whatever could possibly have managed to start to populate the stock..."

              I consider this good, practical advice, but it is technically false; I would not try to convince a savvy health inspector of such. The reason it is false is that some spoilage organisms (e.g., Bacillus cereus, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum, etc.) generate spores and non-living toxins which the reheating will not kill. Proper reheating will kill the live organisms (and boiling for >10 minutes will destroy most spores), but the toxins remain.

              I confess to taking these risks, but the risks are real.

              See, this NYT treatment of Chef Michael Ruhlman's risk-taking. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/din...


              1. re: kaleokahu

                Not arguing to the validity of the toxin's presence - as I agree. This "toxins aren't killed" argument comes up a lot in these types of discussions (as they should, and as I mentioned in my earlier post). But keeping it to this topic and scenario. . .

                If the stock has been simmered for 4-5 hours - anything in that stock is basically killed. And "technically" the stock will need to cool low enough and long enough to re-enter the "danger zone" - though what is really left in a covered pot to really bloom in the danger zone?

                So as a procedural result - any toxin in the stock would have formed from the living organisms present before the first 5 hour simmer - so this "break" in the simmer isn't going to change that. Toxins don't multiply themselves, they are a result of the organism, which we all seem to feel should have been killed during the 5 hour simmer.

                So in this instance, any toxin issue that you bring up would be the same risk before and/or after this break . . . no?

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Clostridium bacteria are indeed responsible for producing toxins, and also difficult to kill. But their enterotoxin itself can be denatured by boiling; the endospores (a dormant cell of the bacterium with a kind of shell that makes it hard to kill) are able to survive boiling temperatures. You've got it backwards. B. Cereus is also an endospore former that will not reliably be killed by boiling. It releases three different toxins, which might be more heat-tolerant than clostridium toxins.

                  Also of note, staph aureus (which is comparatively easy to kill) can release an enterotoxin that is stable at boiling temperature.

                  Most of this is academic though for one reason - taking something off the heat for just two or three hours before reboiling is simply not enough time for either the release of toxins or the multiplication of bacteria to dangerous levels. If the OP were debating whether to leave the kitchen for 6 or 8 or 12+ hours, heat stable toxins released by b. cereus or staph aureus would be a concern. But anything under 4 hours meets even the most stringent of kitchen safety standards.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    there aren't going to be enough toxins created in 2 hours of residual heat to be a threat.

          2. The best idea, IMO, is to chill the pot in an ice bath to lower the temp precipitously.
            Then, refrigerate.
            Or- place pot(s) in low oven
            Or- last option, bring to a boil to get the temp as high as your can, so it takes a loooooooong time to come down to the danger zone.

            3 Replies
              1. re: monavano

                In the oven is probably best. And if leaving the gas oven on is a concern, I'd preheat it to say 250F and then shut the oven off with the pot inside, maybe at a lower temp if your pot has places it can melt. The oven should hold it above 140 for a couple of hours at least.

                1. re: monavano

                  It would take longer than two hours to get the stock to a low enough temperature to then put into the refrigerator and the stoxk would sgill be in the danger zone, in the refrigerator, upon returning to the house after two hours away.

                2. Even using the very conservative food safety standards recommended by the USDA, you would have up to 4 hours for food to pass from 140 degrees to below 40 degrees before there is any considerable danger. If you have a big pot of stock at a simmer, it would take a little while to drop below 140 in the first place... and then you would have several hours to reheat it above 140 with very little risk.

                  If you're stepping out for 'a couple hours,' cover the pot, reheat it upon returning home, and don't worry about it in the least.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    Just to reiterate "cover the Pot"

                  2. Just take it off heat and reboil when you get home. Bugs wouldn't have had a chance to grow anyway (it's a sterile environment), and whatever did grow would die off in the second boil.

                    1. You should be fine. I'm not sure how large your stock pot is, but I've left my very large pot for more than two hours and have come home to find the pot still too hot to touch. I have also stuck the pot in the oven at 200 and then taken it out when I got home. Never had a problem.

                      1. I'm with those who say you're fine here. I make sure to cover the pot and let it simmer long enough covered so that steam will kill off bacteria above the fluid line and on the lid itself. Takes hours for a pot like that to cool appreciably. Give it another hit of simmering when you're home, and you assure a basically sterile environment.

                        1. Do you have a large slow cooker you can toss it into, and leave it on low? I would trust that over leaving it on the stove.

                          1. Hi all!

                            Thanks for all of the tips! I ended up going with @monavano suggestion of boiling it to a high temp in order to lengthen its cool-down time (mainly because it was the easiest while allowing me to feel like I was doing *something* at least) and was reassured by @thimes saying he does it all the time.

                            Made some matzo ball soup with it and it was wonderful! I should note that the stock didn't gelatinize, but I think it's because I had a lot more spare veggie parts in my freezer than usual so I needed more water to cover them up!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: GallopingGargoyles

                              Well I'm certainly glad you didn't throw it away given your situation. And on a personal note - I make stock all the time and who on earth (I know many) has 6+ hours straight to keep their stock going. I always have to start/stop the process unless it's the middle of winter and I'm snowed in.

                              That said - for posterity - I want to re-address the "heat tolerant toxin" concern that comes up every time one of these questions comes up. First - it is a real concern and I don't mean to diminish it, I included it in my posted her too.

                              But a more realistic home cook scenario where those toxins may come into play would be something like this . . . . . it's Thanksgiving and you've had a great time. You wake up the next morning and realize someone left the carcass out over night. But you figure, you're making stock and it will boil for a few hours anyway . . . it will be fine . . . . .wrong . . . . . That carcass has been "in the danger" zone for hours and IF there were the wrong bacteria growing on it, they have had hours to produce said toxins. While the bacteria would be killed during the boiling, the toxins, to which people keep referring, would not be eliminated. This could be a potential problem.

                              Glad it worked out.

                              1. re: GallopingGargoyles

                                As long as the soup came out just fine, I'm happy! (I've also been craving matzo ball soup lately.) I did read somewhere that it was not advisable to over boil a stock, just reaching a very low simmer for a long time. Sounds like that didn't happen here, because the soup was good and it was just kicked up for a short period of time.

                                I have used my outdoor propane rig and have just set it in the yard and kept it going (even overnight). Heck, I've also left my stove on and left the house plenty of times. I figure that the manufacturers for most stoves have to have some safety mechanisms built in, being UL listed and all.

                                I do worry a bit more since I have an old Chambers stove, which is why the use of the outdoor rig. Also, it's hot here - I have a freezer full of chicken, pork, and duck bones that need dealing with so that the freezer can be used.......I can't wait for a cold front!