Leftovers Can Cause Food Borne Illness

Have you been to a restaurant and taken leftovers home? Did you leave them in the car for a few hours while running errands? How long did you leave them in the refrigerator before eating that delectable leftover?

As a safe rule, we suggest foods, that otherwise require refrigeration, should not be eaten if they have been at room temperature for more than 4 hours. During that four hours there may have been significant bacteria growth. If you leave the leftovers in the car during warmer weather, while you run errands, the food could become unsafe to eat. Beyond the time/room temperature abuse there are time limits for refrigeration.

The USDA has developed a chart with time limit guidelines that define outer limits of when refrigerated foods are safe to eat. This chart is based on the assumption that there has not been significant time/room temperature abuse. I have extracted and rearranged some of the data for ease of memory.

USDA-FDA Cold Storage Chart

Product Refrigeration (below 40 ºF)
Raw chicken, turkey, pork, beef or sausage. 1 to 2 days
Hamburger, ground beef, fish, chicken, turkey, veal, pork or lamb.  

1 to 2 days

Steaks, chops or roast 3 to 5 days
Cooked meat or poultry 3 to 4 days
Chicken nuggets or patties 3 to 4 days
Pizza 3 to 4 days
Eggs hard cooked 1 week
Bacon 1 week

Next time you get sick from restaurant leftovers, remember that you may have gotten sick because of your own time/room temperature abuse.

Don’t blame the restaurant for that illness.



Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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