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How can I tell if food that's been sitting out is safe to eat?

Many foods need to be kept cold or refrigerated to preserve freshness and prevent bacterial overgrowth. There is no way to judge the safety of foods that have been left out, but a good rule of thumb for particularly risky foods such as chicken and meats is that they not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Mayonnaise and eggs can also be risky, so it important to consider the risk of sandwiches and salads that have not been kept cool.
The temperature at which food is kept determines how long it can sit out. Foods can go bad without looking, smelling or tasting different, so use these guidelines before eating something that's been sitting out:
  • Eat foods that should be eaten hot when they're hot -- ideally, this means above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that the food at least feels hot to the touch.
  • Eat cold foods cold: shrimp cocktail, raw shellfish and dip must be eaten cold. Steer clear if they're at room temperature.
  • Don't eat any refrigerated or heated food that has been sitting out for over two hours. Munch on nuts, crackers and other foods that don't spoil (finally, a legitimate health reason to have some M&Ms!).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.