Will Reheating Food Make It Safe If You Forget to Refrigerate It?

Reheating food forgotten on the counter won't make it safe

Author:  Alice Henneman, MS, RDN, UNL Extension in Lancaster County

If you reheat food that was forgotten on the counter overnight or was left out all day, will it be safe to eat?

TWO HOURS is the MAXIMUM time perishable foods should be at room temperature (ONE HOUR at temperatures 90 degrees F and higher). This INCLUDES the time they're on the table during your meal. Just ONE bacterium, doubling every 20 minutes, can grow to over 2,097,152 bacteria in 7 hours!

Perishable foods include:

  • Meat, poultry, seafood and tofu
  • Dairy products
  • Cooked pasta, rice and vegetables
  • Fresh, peeled and/or cut fruits and vegetables.

Reheating food may not make it safe. If food is left out too long, some bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus (staph), can form a heat-resistant toxin that cooking can't destroy.

One of the most common sources of staph bacteria is the human body. Even healthy people carry staph — according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Bad Bug Book, staph bacteria are present in the nasal passages and throats and on the hair and skin of 50 percent or more of healthy individuals. Staph bacteria is found in facial blemishes, cuts and lesions.

Most likely, the only way you'll know if a food contained staph bacteria is when someone gets sick.