October 17, 2017
Everyone knows that meat, poultry and seafood can quickly spoil if they’re not kept cold. But what about some of the other foods we consume on a regular basis? When we don’t take the necessary precautions, harmful bacteria that are generally undetectable by smell, texture or taste can begin growing on some of our favorite home-cooked meals, leftovers and groceries.
Here are six examples of everyday foods that can make you really sick if they’re not refrigerated:
Cooked food like pasta may seem to preserve well, but the Department of Agriculture warns against what it calls “the Danger Zone,” or the range of temperatures (40 through 140 degrees Fahrenheit) in which cooked food sits out for longer than two hours. During that period, bacteria can grow rapidly. Save yourself the headache (or massive stomachache), and stay aware of how long your food’s been sitting out.
While most of our nutritious favorites can be left at room temperature, once they are cut or peeled (or if they’re pre-cut), they must be stored in the refrigerator. They should be covered tightly with plastic wrap or stored in sealed plastic bags or airtight containers and kept away from foods like meat that can cause cross-contamination. Fruits and veggies, particularly leafy greens, that aren’t stored properly can become contaminated with harmful viruses like E. coli and norovirus (a nasty stomach bug).
The way that eggs are produced and handled in the United States means that they must be refrigerated in order to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying. When left out, the chance of growing salmonella increases — definitely not a good thing! To avoid this, store-bought pies made with eggs in the filling or crust should only be unrefrigerated for 24-48 hours. Homemade pies should be refrigerated even sooner.
It can be tricky to determine whether a condiment should be refrigerated or not, but a great rule to go by is this: Any item containing dairy or fruits and vegetables (like Caesar salad dressing, vinaigrettes, jams, jellies, etc.) must be refrigerated. While sauces that contain things like alcohol, vinegar, sugar or salt can survive without the cold — think ketchup and mustard — your favorite sauces made with cream or yogurt must be kept cold.
There is a misconception that, since yogurt is made from fermented milk and already contains bacteria, it will not spoil when left unrefrigerated. However, even with its bacteria, yogurt spoils when left out for two hours or more at 41-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though you may have seen a friend or co-worker eat yogurt that’s been left out for longer, erring on the side of caution is best, as foodborne illness is never something to mess around with.
As one of the most beloved comfort foods of all time, it’s necessary to point out that pizza must be refrigerated after a certain point and should not be eaten if accidentally left out overnight. To ensure the cheese does not grow harmful bacteria, pizza (even without meat) must be kept cold after about two hours.
Certain foods might not exhibit any signs of spoilage but can still be contaminated with bacteria like salmonella, E coli and hepatitis A. When deciding whether or not to refrigerate certain foods, it’s always best to double-check – it could save you from the world’s worst stomachache.