Is It Safe To Eat Meat That's Been Left Out Overnight?

Have you ever woken up to find your carne asada tacos or spaghetti Bolognese leftovers have been forgotten, left on the counter? It's a disappointing discovery. Especially if you cringe at the thought of wasting food or are now left without lunch. But before you take a whiff to make a critical judgment call, read on to find out if eating meat left out overnight is a safe choice.

According to the USDA, the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the entire world. However, foodborne illnesses or poisoning are still common and need to be taken seriously, as they usually manifest themselves in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Food poisoning may even lead to death. Each year, approximately 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths occur due to foodborne conditions. 

One of the easiest ways to keep yourself safe from contaminated food is to be aware of expiration dates and store your leftovers properly. This is especially true when it comes to meat leftovers. Cooking meat to the right minimum temperature and storing it in the refrigerator within a few hours of being cooked help prevent foodborne illnesses (via USDA).

Reheating leftovers won't make them safe

We get that leftovers can easily be forgotten about in the car or left out on the counter overnight. If this happens, don't use your nose to make the judgment call. According to the USDA, even if meat still smells and looks fresh, it could still be spoiled. In fact, any meat that has been left out at room temperature for longer than two hours in the danger zone –- temperatures between 40 F and 140 F –- is considered dangerous and should be discarded, as bacteria can grow quickly within that temperature frame.

If you think reheating your leftovers will zap away the harmful bacteria that has grown on your forgotten meat, then step away from the microwave. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, harmful bacteria like staphylococcus aureus are likely to develop a heat-resistant toxin that reheating can't destroy.

While your leftover carne asada tacos or spaghetti Bolognese would have made a delicious lunch, if they didn't make it to the fridge, we urge you to not take the chance and contract a foodborne illness. The reheated extras just aren't worth it.