How Long Can You Leave Cooked Foods Unrefrigerated?

(Image credit: Henry Chen)

We’ve all forgotten to put something away after a meal or gotten distracted. Or maybe this question has come up when cleaning up after a party and figuring out what to do with all the leftover food. Has it gone bad? Here’s how long food can be left out and still be safe to eat?

Kitchen Fact: Cooked food should not be left out of refrigeration for more than two hours.

Cooked food sitting at room temperature is in what the USDA calls the “Danger Zone,” which is between 40°F and 140°F. In this range of temperatures, bacteria grows rapidly and the food can become unsafe to eat, so it should only be left out no more than two hours.

One exception to note: If the food’s sitting in an environment where the temperature is over 90°F, the USDA says the food should only be left out for one hour, so keep an eye on the clock if you’re serving food on a hot day!

Kitchen Fact Source: How Temperatures Affect Food at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Other Tips on Food and Refrigeration from The Kitchn