How Long Can You Leave Cooked Foods Unrefrigerated?

updated May 25, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Part of reducing food waste (and keeping more pennies in your pocket) is knowing how long bacon wrapped shrimp and other buffet table favorites can sit out and remain safe to eat. You might not be a leftover-lover, but sometimes those refrigerated extras can come in handy. Here’s everything you need to know about serving food safely and when to refrigerate or toss your leftovers.

How Long Can Food Sit Out?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food and safety basics states cooked food can be left at room temperature up to two hours. If the temperature outside (or inside your house) is 90°F or above, you should cut that time in half.

When the temperature of cooked food is between 40°F and 140°F the USDA considers that the “Danger Zone” because food can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Although you might be tempted to leave that egg casserole from brunch on the table while you mingle and sip mimosas, you could be putting your guests at risk for foodborne illnesses.

How to Keep Food Safe and Party-Ready

Food poisoning sends 128,000 Americans to the hospital each year, according to To keep the good vibes going and to make sure your party is memorable for all the right reasons, follow a few simple tips.

  • Keep cold food cold: You want to keep pasta salad, potato salad, and fruit salad below 40°F. To do this fill a large bowl with ice, put a linen or towel over it, and nestle a smaller bowl filled with your favorite picnic salad into the ice. It should be small enough for the walls of the salad bowl to be covered by the ice.
  • Keep hot foods hot: Keep your pulled pork, meatballs, and hot dips above 140°F. The best way to maintain a higher temp is to set up your party food near outlets where you can plug in slow cookers to keep the food at the right temp. If that’s not an option, then chafing dishes are usually easy to find at home good or restaurant supply stores.

More Food Safety Tips from The Kitchn

Knowing if you should store or toss food after it’s been left out on the counter is one thing, but what about soup you can bring to boil or leftovers that have been in the fridge since you brought them home from the restaurant? Don’t worry, we have you covered.