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    Friday, 25 November 2016

    Countertop Blues – Leaving Out Food

    Once everyone has assumed the role of the turkey (stuffed) after Thanksgiving, leftover food is abandoned in favour of watching the American football game or recuperating on the couch with some board games. The question that no one thinks about, likely due to the food-induced stupor, is how long can leftovers can sit out for before going bad?

    A human’s sense of smell is woefully lacking when compared to our fellow animals. However, we still rely on it to discern whether food is still good; the fabled sniff test. This in conjunction with a visual assessment is all that some people need in order to decide if that 3-day-old pizza is edible. Did I mention that the box has been sitting out on the counter?

    No Iffy Leftovers

    Humans aren’t able to detect bacterial contamination without the assistance of a microscope. Mould can be seen by the naked eye, but invisible roots can delve deeply, especially in soft foods. It’s best to be aware of what foods spoil easiest; unshelled eggs, raw meats, fish, daily products, and cooked foods spoil quicker than others. When deciding whether a leftover is still good, it’s important to take into consideration the cumulative time a product has spent in the danger zone, meaning the grocery trip, trip home, prep before cooking, and down time after cooking. Therefore, if a food or its components have been at room temperature for an excess of 2 hours, it should be discarded.

    Foods left in temperatures from 41°F (5°C) to 140°F (60°C) are in the temperature danger zone. This temperature range is perfectly safe to keep food in for 2 hours, according to the FDA. Other agencies, like the Food Safety InformationCouncil, say that foods are good for up to 4 hours as long as they are used immediately. Past that, food should be thrown out. Anything over that allows food poisoning bacteria to grow to unsafe levels. Keep cooked food hot until ready to eat, refrigerating any leftovers immediately. Cold food should be kept in the fridge at a safe temperature until ready to be cooked. This will stop bacteria from growing.

    Grounds for a Recount

    Some of you, myself included, may have previously thought that cooking foods resets the clock on perishable foods. If meat is about to go bad, doesn’t it prolong the shelf life if you cook it? As mentioned in our Thanksgiving article, bacteria and pathogens are destroyed in the cooking process as it is a form of pasteurisation. The process of pasteurisation kills most microbes, yielding acceptable, safe food. It does not, however, destroy their byproducts: toxins. Some bacteria leave behind protein toxins which cannot be denatured by cooking. For that, food must undergo a sterilisation process like pressure-canning which allows long-term room-temperature food storage. Even then, once opened, sterilised food is just as susceptible to bacteria and moulds.

    The 2:4 Rule

    Leftovers should be packaged within 2 hours of cooking. This ensures that it is kept out of the danger zone and will stay fresh for as long as possible. To have finished leftovers cool rapidly and evenly, use shallow containers. Once stored, leftovers should be eaten within 4 days. Food can still be safe to eat after 4 days, but it will have dried out and lost a lot of flavour. 

    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).
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