How Long Can Food Be Left Out?

Special care needs to be taken when food is left at room temperature. Some food can be left on the counter indefinitely, whereas other types have limits as to how long you can do so safely. Here are some guidelines about how long to leave some common types of food out of the fridge.



Precautions must be taken when the meat has been removed from the fridge. If your meat is cooked, then it is a rule of thumb to leave it out no longer than two hours. If you have not eaten it by that point, it is safest to throw it out.

Meat that has sat around too long, especially in the so-called “danger zone” of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, allows bacteria to multiply rapidly. When it comes to meats, salmonella and E. coli are a few of the main ones to worry about.


Mayonnaise and Foods Containing Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is a food that also requires some care. Although it is popular in foods like potato salad that often remain outdoors in the heat at picnics and barbecues for long periods of time, it is unsafe when out for too long.

Mayonnaise should never be out of the fridge for longer than two hours. If your food is going to be sitting in the sun or heat that is higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, that time should be cut down to one hour.



Dairy foods include items such as milk, cream, cheese, and yogurt.

Hard cheeses can be left out of the fridge for rather long periods of time. Four hours is recommended by some, as hard cheeses do not contain the moisture that allows bacteria to breed.

Soft cheeses should never be left out of the fridge for more than two hours, though, and in fact, it is recommended that they are placed on ice or in another type of cooler when out for longer than 30 minutes.

Milk that reaches the two-hour out-of-fridge mark should be discarded, and the same goes for yogurt.



Rice is an item that many people think of as being perfectly fine to leave out as long as necessary. However, rice contains bacillus cereus spores that are not killed even with cooking. When left at room temperature to cool for more than two hours, the bacteria spores then grow, producing a toxin that can make you quite ill. Rice must be put into the fridge when it is cooling down and thereafter.



Eggs are left at room temperature in many parts of the world. In North America, we are advised to keep them in the fridge to avoid salmonella. Leaving a cold egg out of the fridge can cause the egg to sweat, and bacteria to be moved into the egg.


There are many types of food that need to be refrigerated, and they each have their own timeline. Follow the guidelines above to keep your food safely stored when not being eaten. You will reap a healthy and happy family.

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