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How Long Can You Keep Food at Room Temperature? A Guide to Safe Food Storage



Proper food storage is essential to keep our food fresh, healthy, and free from harmful bacteria. But how do we ensure that we are storing food safely? One crucial aspect of food safety is understanding the temperature danger zone, which refers to the range of temperatures within which food should not be held at for an extended time. Here, we'll discuss the temperature danger zone, how long food can be kept at room temperature, and the safe temperatures to keep food to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.


should be stored at temperatures below 40°F (4°C) to slow down the growth of bacteria.

The Temperature Danger Zone


The temperature danger zone is the temperature range in which bacteria can multiply rapidly in food, leading to foodborne illness. This range is between 40°F and 140°F (4°C to 60°C). It's important to note that food left within this temperature range for an extended period can become dangerous to consume, even if it appears fresh.


Pathogens can multiply at a fast rate and can spoil foods within the first 2 hours if held within this temperature range.


Perishable raw foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, should be kept out of this temperature range. They should be stored at temperatures below 40°F (4°C) to slow down the growth of bacteria. When cooking perishable foods, it's crucial to ensure that they reach the recommended cooking temperature to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.


High-risk foods:
  • Milk and dairy products

  • Egg products

  • Raw meats

  • Fish and shellfish

  • Starch-rich foods (e.g., cooked pasta and rice)

  • Sauces



If the temperature is above 90°F (32°C), food should not be left out for more than one hour.

How Long Can You Keep Food at Room Temperature?

Perishable foods can begin to spoil within a few hours at room temperature. The USDA recommends that perishable foods not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. If the temperature is above 90°F (32°C), food should not be left out for more than one hour. It's important to note that these time limits are not hard and fast rules. The two-hour and one-hour limits are based on the assumption that the food has been cooked and stored properly before being left out. If the food has been mishandled or is not fresh to begin with, it can spoil much more quickly.


Perishable foods should be stored at temperatures below 40°F (4°C)

Safe Temperatures to Keep Food:

To keep food out of the temperature danger zone, it's essential to follow proper food storage practices. Perishable foods should be stored at temperatures below 40°F (4°C), and the temperature of the refrigerator should be checked regularly with a thermometer to ensure that it's maintaining the proper temperature. When cooking, it's important to use a food thermometer to ensure that perishable foods are cooked to the appropriate temperature.


Food that will be served hot should be kept above 140 °F (60°C)

To ensure that food is safe to eat at a later time, it should be stored in hot-holding containers or cold storage. Food that will be served hot should be kept above 140 °F (60°C), while food that will be consumed at a later time, such as the next day, should be refrigerated below 40°F (5°F).



Tips for Safe Food Storage:

  1. Store perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible after purchasing or cooking them.

  2. Use a thermometer to ensure that the refrigerator and freezer are maintaining the proper temperature.

  3. Store raw meat, poultry, and fish on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent any juices from dripping onto other foods.

  4. Cook perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, to the appropriate temperature to kill any bacteria that may be present.

  5. Use leftovers within four days of cooking or freeze them for later use.



Proper food storage is crucial to ensure that our food is safe to consume and free from harmful bacteria. By understanding the temperature danger zone, how long food can be kept at room temperature, and the safe temperatures to keep food, we can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and keep our food fresh, healthy, and of the highest quality.

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