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Food Left Out Overnight

Full of Bacteria and Potentially Deadly - Don't eat it!

Ah … the joys of summer!

Along with the beautiful, warm, sunny weather we’ve all been waiting for comes a habit many people fall prey to that’s a BIG food safety no-no: Eating food left out overnight. It’s a habit that poses a dangerous health risk, and we at Stop Foodborne Illness want to help you avoid it forevermore.

Here’s a typical scenario you’ve probably been in yourself a time or two:

You’re having a little get together at your place one evening and, after spending the day outside in the hot summer sun, the heat has got you beat—you’re definitely not cooking tonight. So, you order some pizza for all the guests. After everyone leaves, you’re so tired you forget all about the leftover pizza sitting on the kitchen counter. You head straight for bed. When you get up the next morning, you’re starving. And nothing sounds better than that pizza!

The problem?

After many hours left sitting out, that room-temp pizza has had lots of time for lots of potentially harmful bacteria to grow. Bacteria that may make you violently ill with diarrhea and vomiting or worse—it could land you in the hospital with a full-blown foodborne illness that shuts down your organs and causes negative, long-term health consequences or death.

Now, you may be thinking:

My mom always left food out overnight, and I never got sick.

Even so, it’s DANGEROUS.

I only left the food out for a few hours so it’s not a big deal.

Even so, it’s DANGEROUS.

Lots of people leave food out overnight all the time and they don’t get sick.

Even so, it’s DANGEROUS.

When it comes to eating food you’ve left out overnight (for more than 2 hours), there’s no way around it—that food is simply NOT safe to eat.

So, please pay heed to these key points on why you should NEVER eat it:

  • Hot foods must be kept hot and cold foods must be kept cold. There’s only a TWO HOUR limit for leaving perishable food out at room temperature. After that, the food must be refrigerated or put in the freezer.
  • When it comes to hot carry out food like pizza or Chinese, keep in mind that the two-hour countdown starts when the food begins to drop below a temp of 140° F, which is typically during the car ride to your house. So, unless your food is piping hot when it gets to you, you have less than two hours before you need to get the food into the fridge. Tip: Reheat your take-out food in the microwave or oven the minute it arrives to reset your two-hour window.
  • After food has been left out past the two-hour mark, you can’t just heat the heck out of it and make it safe to eat. Bacteria that can survive the heat has already had the chance to proliferate. For example, Staphylococcus aureus is everywhere—it’s in us, on food, in the air, and all around. When perishable foods aren’t stored at safe temps, staph bacteria grows rapidly and produces heat-stable toxins that CANNOT be destroyed by reheating (even at high temperatures). Another example is Clostridium botulinum. A single spore of it can turn into 1,000 bacteria in a few hours and, once again, reheating food that’s been contaminated with Clostridium botulinum doesn’t kill the active bacteria or toxins.
  • Even if food you’ve left out overnight looks and smells OK, it’s NOT. Foods teeming with harmful bacteria in them may not look, smell, or even taste different.
  • Pathogens today are more virulent than 50-75 years ago. So, even if your mother or grandmother used to leave food out overnight and eat it the next day without any worry, we’re in a different and more dangerous place in time when it comes to deadly bugs that lurk in our food.


Eating food left out overnight is a food safety no-no. No exceptions.

So, please make your personal pledge today to NEVER eat it. Even if you’re in the habit of doing this and haven’t gotten sick yet, it’s better to be safe than to take the risk and become terribly ill or lose your life to foodborne illness.