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It can! Cooked Meat left out overnight; leaving food out overnight may create a stomach ache

Updated on October 23, 2014

Early morning dilemma

Oh the pain of it all; no income in sight and a delicious pot of chicken enchiladas left on the counter all night. What to do?

My first response this morning was to shove the entire pot into the oven and burn away the bacteria. "Are you heating enchiladas for lunch?" My husband the Chef was proud of his culinary achievement.

"It sat on the counter all night; I am afraid we may need to toss it!" The look on his face would curdle milk. "I's going to go online and see whether cooking it will kill the bacteria."

"It would be ridiculous to toss it!" The dark edges of my husband's temper were making an appearance.

"It would be more ridiculous to eat it and get sick!" It was difficult, because I agreed with him in my heart. But my head flashed, "Danger!"

We are down to a catastrophic insurance plan. Food poisoning, though disgusting in my experience, is not catastrophic. It inflicts violent vomiting and slow debilitation.

Sadly, there are no grey areas online when it comes to leaving meat on the counter. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection site is very clear:

"Bacteria exist everywhere in nature. They are in the soil, air, water, and the foods we eat. When they have nutrients (food), moisture, and favorable temperatures, they grow rapidly, increasing in numbers to the point where some types of bacteria can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 °F, some doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. Some types will produce toxins that are not destroyed by cooking.

"Pathogenic bacteria do not generally affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a food. In other words, one cannot tell that a food has been mishandled or is dangerous to eat. For example, food that has been left too long on the counter may be dangerous to eat, but could smell and look fine. If a food has been left in the "Danger Zone" – between 40 and 140 °F – for more than 2 hours, discard it, even though it may look and smell good. Never taste a food to see if it is spoiled."

Softening the blow

There are several options I can offer my husband to soften the blow:

1. The type of illness produced when food is left out too long at room temperature appears to be Staph aureus food poisoning. The symptoms for this include severe vomiting; diarrhea, severe abdominal cramps, a mild fever and possibly abdominal distention.

"If you don't mind vomiting all night, by all means dig in to the chicken enchilada! Heck, the site says you only have to contact a doctor IF your diarrhea contains blood or mucus; you have diarrhea and ALSO vomit, have a fever or abdominal cramping; or your diarrhea lasts longer than 2-3 days!"

2. Most likely it isn't Salmonella, though chicken is involved and sitting out, it is definitely improperly prepared.

"Heck, if you do get salmonella," I might reassure him, "The acute illness only lasts for 1 - 2 weeks. Sure maybe for some, bacteria is shed in the feces for months. But most people with salmonella shed the bacteria and do NOT wind up being in a carrier state for 1 year or more after the infection..."

The mortality rate for Salmonella is about .071%. This means only about 1000 people die in the US annually. That's two per day. Most likely not my husband, right?

Only two people a day die of salmonella, so don't worry about a little diarrhea.

3. In these tough economic times, I can offer NOT to eat at all...

"What if I fast for a day? Will this cover the opportunity cost of tossed enchiladas?"

In the middle of composing this hub, my sister in law called with a quick action item. When I returned, my husband had eaten the enchilada casserole for lunch. It had baked for four hours at 250 degrees. I tossed what was left down the disposal, not willing to risk him eating more- yes, I DID warn him about the diarrhea, but he didn't seem to notice.

Stay tuned. Hopefully he isn't stranded in some field somewhere, his RC plane lodged in a tree as he doubles over in pain...

© 2010 Barbara


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    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Roger, here's to strong stomachs!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      On a budget I would not think twice about eating un-refrigerated food. At university I do not own a fridge, and so will stack any left-overs in (open or closed) tupperware around my (room temperature) room.

      If I'm ever hungry I'll just dig in... I've never gotten sick from it.

      I should add that I'll chuck the food past three days though. By then it starts to smell, haha.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Some Guy, good to know! I prefer to err on the side of caution... Might I assume the temperature in the car was winter-related and not summer levels? Either way, I am glad you are well. We all make our choices and live with them. My stomach is growling right now- I tend to forget to eat, so I would have passed on the sandwich and driven the extra miles to Chipotle...

    • profile image

      Some Guy 

      7 years ago

      I found this post through Google a couple days ago as I was deciding whether or not to eat a chicken sandwich my brother had left in the car overnight.. Well, I was hungry and so I ate it. Several days later; I'm unaffected. I live a healthy lifestyle of eating well and physical activity which I claim as the cause for my strong immune system.. No idea what blood type I am as I avoid doctors at all costs...

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Your comment raises so many questions, Lindsay! I wonder if you are talking about cooked meats or pastas and if the room temp is cold and if you have some enzymes that protect your stomachs and if you eat a Mediterranean diet and all sorts of curiosities! Thank you for your comment!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Well in many latino cultues food is left out over night. I find myself eating food left out overnight at least 3 times a week, and not once have I gotten anything near an upset stomache. There are some foods I wouldn't eat afte being left out however (crab for example). I also know TONS of people who do as well andthere never seems to be a problem. I assume owever that if your body is not used to doing so you may have a diffeent reaction to doing the same.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      frogyfish, yep my brother is very helpful with such areas of expertise!!! So glad he could help.

    • frogyfish profile image


      8 years ago from Central United States of America

      Great hub and comments too. Craig gave especially vital info. I have a type O stomach but take HCl with certain foods even if they have not been 'sitting out' at Thanksgiving pig-out time.

      Great story here, and thanks for sharing it!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've been leaving dinner out overnight for years and years and always eat it. Never been sick.

    • chamilj profile image


      8 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Great hub. Some people eat overnight left over foods without any problems but I will not recommend it.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Great Hub, Barbara, and your man is still fine, is he? No horrible long-delayed after-effects? LOL!

      I must confess I am very suspicious of food left out for any length of time. At the same time I recognise the waste aspect too. What a toss-up!

      Thanks for sharing

      Love and peace


    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      maggs, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate them muchly.

    • maggs224 profile image


      9 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I love your writing style it is so easy to read and you have a gentle sense of humour which enriches your writing. You have won yourself a fan oh sorry I mean follower ...

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Awesome, Martie! I admit I have fascinating readers- I love all their comments and learn so much myself!!! Thanks for your comments as well. You make me laugh and make me think in turn.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Story – another hub of yours discovered in the hidden file! So glad I read it after you have announced your husband’s negative respond to that chicken, because I would have been sick on his behalf. I am quite sensitive for bacteria in food. From now on I’ll keep Craig Shirley’s ‘advice’ in mind. Soooo sad, the death of your mother’s little brother. I’m once again so grateful, for my bad experiences in life are but only little bitter toffees comparing to such a horrifying event. This hub plus comments was quite a rollercoaster – identifying smiling with your paranoid thoughts and actions, worrying about your husband, sinking into sadness, and then stimulated again by Craig’s interesting comment. Wow!

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Thanks KKG. I'm with you!

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Some people must have cast iron stomaches to be able to eat something that has been left out over night. I guess I'm just not that adventerous. I really don't like spending all that time is the bathroom attached to a toilet. Great hub - well written - I enjoyed it.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      haha, Blake, I miss your sense of the obvious. Thanks so much for your wise words. I will be sure to apply them next time I don't notice a casserole on the counter...

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 

      9 years ago from United States

      Here are a couple old sayings that should help clear up this issue right away. Choose the one that applies for your agenda, and then use it as your excuse to control and persuade everyone else. It's very scientific...

      "Better safe than sorry"


      "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger"

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Craig, what a wonderful wealth of information you have shared here! I appreciate your insights and I am sure others will as well.

      As for me, perhaps you are not aware that enchiladas contain chicken, and cheese and lots of gooey stuff... all wrapped in a corn tortilla. The more moist the better!

      I read that baking it as long as I did would have killed the bacteria but not the toxins that were created.

      I would venture to believe my husband acquired a Type O stomach as a survival technique, considering his mother's disregard for refrigerating items labeled "Refrigerate after opening"- thus the Neaderthal man comment, lol.

      Thanks again. I will have to find some of that HCL and Curcumin...

    • profile image

      Craig Shirley 

      9 years ago

      Food poisoning is not caused by the bacteria itself. It is caused by the "toxins" that are produced by the bacteria. Toxins are almost always toxic because they are strong oxidizing agents. Therefore, one way to combat them is with anti-oxidants...and plenty of them! One such antioxidant, microhydrin, has an enviable track record of eliminating food poisioning symptoms completely. SOD, pycnogenol, resveratrol, etc are also great to have in your system prior to any food poisoning issues.

      Type "O" blood types (and dogs!!!) have a stronger stomach acid that inhibits or destroys salmonella. They can eat most anything, it seems! Type "A" and "B", can mimic that strong acid barrier benefit by taking some HCl stomach acid booster prior to eating proteins. It might help after eating suspicious food as well.

      With that in mind, it is clear that Salmonella (most likely pathogen) likes a protein slurry (like mayonnaise in mashed egg salad) rather than a piece of well cooked meat. Things like egg salad, which have never really been cooked as a whole, are very susceptible within hours, especially if a bit less than ice cold. However, a dryish piece of steak that has been cooked well on the grill, will likely be ok for an overnight mistake.

      The steak would not have enough moisture to promote heavy bacteria reproduction, and it is unlikely to have internal bacteria in the first place. Not so with egg salad!

      I personally eat plenty of stuff my wife would NOT touch. I never get sick.

      Another thing I avoid is deli turkey slices. Unless it is the dry stuff. Ham is very much better due to the salt inhibition. (ALL is flavored with MSG!) Best is stuff you slice yourself!!!!!

      Pizza is probably OK, mostly, however some has suspicious gooey stuff on it that you may not find on the normal pepperoni/cheese thin crust. Deep dish may be more likely to have a nice environment for salmonella, especially if the meat is encased in the deeper layers of dough. If it sits on top, it is likely greasy or dry, and not an issue.

      Remember that Salmonella is interested in protein, and then, only with a moist area. Then it can rapidly reproduce, and produce it's toxins.

      Ironically, just this morning I find that my son, at 2 am, turned off the 3 gallons of beef soup in water/vegetable stock that had been cooking since noon. I deemed it OK when I discovered it at 9 the next morning... precicely because it did not have any added protein stock (soup stock) and the only protein of any consequence was beef chunks that had been cooking hard for 12 hours, thus inhibiting all bacteria but cysts. And there were unlikely many of these encysted bacteria since the beef chunks were pretty likely to have been clean.

      I ate 2 bowls full, but took an HCL tablet, and some Curcumin just in case. So far I feel great! Not too concerned.

      Had there been beef stock or milk in there, I don't know what I would have done.

      Now, I don't know if Story's meat was Salmonella friendly or not, but I would guess it was somewhat less than ideal for food poisoning. Good luck to husband, Jack!

      Life certainly is full of pitfalls!



    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Oh dear, Jaspal. Good for you. I know this is a hard decision when something so delicious and recently purchased raises questions. I honor your choice. Delhi's high temperatures would make being sick even more miserable than it already is!

    • Jaspal profile image


      9 years ago from New Delhi, India

      I am reminded of a recent incident. I'd picked up some fresh smoked ham and salami at Delhi's very old and very famous outlet - called Pigpo! - and it must have taken me half an hour to reach home, and another 15 minutes or so to get them into the chiller. And, guess what? They both had greyish patches (of some fungus?) by next morning. Despite one of my son's reasoning that it would be okay and we could grill it, I just chucked the lot. :(

      Delhi's high temperature and near 100% humidity these days is not the best for processed meat products ...

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      I wonder if some simply have stronger stomachs, i.e., they are closer to neanderthal man? lol Certainly early man was able to eat meat spiced with delicious maggots...

    • jim10 profile image


      9 years ago from ma

      I wouldn't eat it. But, my sister in-law sure would have. It is gross but, my sister in law would leave left overs on the counter and get back to eating them whenever she felt like it. Be it an hour later or the next day. It grossed my wife and I out. But, she always seemed to do ok.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      palmerlarryray, what a sweet offer. Seriously. You are a knight.

    • palmerlarryray profile image

      Larry Ray Palmer 

      9 years ago from Macon, Missouri

      Wow.. never been desperate enough to try that move myself but I have seen my youngest son find a chicken mcnugget that had been under the seat in the car for weeks and eat it.... He lived so maybe your hubby has a chance with overnight chicken.

      If you all are really in that much of an economic bind (I couldn't tell if that part was serious or added for comedic effect), shoot me a message and I will point you towards a few freelance places I work with. They don't always pay the greatest but I've always been able to find work in a pinch.

    • Storytellersrus profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      immartin and bayoulady, my husband claims he had no side effects which leaves me suspicious that he did not actually eat the enchiladas, but was teasing me. I was pretty adamant and when I am adamant, he finds it quite funny to antagonize me. His sister tells me this was common behavior when he was young...

      da, my grandmother had such a pantry in North Dakota! She had yummy cookies in there. Sadly, my mother's immediately older brother died in that frigid room one December, while my mother and her twin were being born in hospital. He opened the door and wandered in at age 1.5 and the babysitter did not notice, as she was caring for mom's older five brothers. He took pneumonia and died before my dear grandmother came home with babies. How heartbreaking! I cannot imagine this. Life was tough for them.

      Zsuzsy, that is a bleak statistic. I have had food poisoning and agree with bayoulady that it is horrific! Well, with a stat like that, probably anyone reading this hub will have experienced it in one form or another. Oh dear!

      Gawth, I used to leave my pizza out but now I stuff it into the fridge and eat it cold in the morning... yum... I think I have some there now...

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 

      9 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      It is good you broached this subject. I have been walking the dangerous side of life. I love left out pizza for breakfast. I go forward better informed.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      They say that 99 out of 100 cases of what people think of 'stomach flu' really is food poisoning instead.

      hope hubby will be okey dokey

      regards Zsuzsy

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Although the subject matter is serious, I find a rather dark humor in it. I'm old enough to remember when a lot of people had ice delivered to refrigerate their food. Although we had a refrigerator, freezer space was very limited. In the Winter we kept things in a closet like room off the kitchen that my mother called a pantry. Needless to say it was not heated.

      I did we all survive?

    • bayoulady profile image


      9 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Yes, I second Immartin's suggestion...for it will all come out,I suspect.

      My daughter, a friend, and I got food poisoning about ten years ago from a pizza joint outing. I thought I would have to DIE to get better. The worst part was not the diarrhea or nausea. It was the aching all over my body and one of the worst spells of dizziness I have ever had.UGH.

    • lmmartin profile image


      9 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      You will let us know how it all comes out, won't you?


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