If You Leave Food Out Overnight, Is It Safe to Eat?

Forget to put away the leftovers? Toss 'em!

Q: If you leave food out overnight, is it safe to eat?

Oz Says: Except for shelf-stable items like bread and cereal, nothing is guaranteed to be trouble-free. At room temperature, the bacteria that can make you sick get a flash mob going in your leftovers. That's why you should refrigerate perishable items within at least two hours (one hour if it's 90 degrees or hotter outside). You can't always depend on reheating to kill what might hurt you. After a while, some bacteria strains, such as Staphylococcus aureus (staph), release a toxin that cooking won't destroy.

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"Staph lives on hair and skin," says Alexandra Armstrong, PhD, chair of the University of Arizona's Food Safety Consortium.

So food that's been touched a lot, like the dish at a big potluck that gets reached over and dipped into, is even more likely to become contaminated. (Don't bother trying to save the leftover guacamole.) Just remember the golden rule of food safety: When in doubt, throw it out.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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