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How Long Can Food Sit Out in the Sun Before Going Bad?

PSA: Here's How Long Hot and Cold Dishes Can Sit in the Sun Before They Become Unsafe

Summer is synonymous with picnics, beach weekends, and backyard barbecues, and while it's the perfect time to try out a new recipe on the grill or whip up your favorite chilled side, it's important to know just how long that food will stay good outdoors.

"Bacteria can grow rapidly on certain foods when they're in the temperature danger zone, which is 41 to 135 degrees," Janilyn Hutchings, a food scientist at StateFoodSafety, told POPSUGAR. These foods are known as time or temperature control for safety foods (TCS), and they include not only meat, dairy, and eggs, but also leafy greens, sliced tomatoes, and cooked vegetables, among others. Essentially, anything that's rich in protein or carbs, moist, or neutral to slightly acidic can pose a risk. If you don't want a party to end with food poisoning, you'll need to take steps to keep everyone safe.

"In general, food can only be left out for two hours before going bad — meaning the bacteria in the food has multiplied to unsafe levels," Janilyn said. "When food is left in the sun, it can go bad even faster because the heat can cause foods to enter the temperature danger zone more quickly." In fact, the USDA recommends leaving food out for no more than an hour when the temperature outside is 90 degrees or hotter.

Bottom line: keep hot foods hot, and bring along a cooler and ice to pack away any food that needs to stay chilled, like dips, fruit, and salsa or guacamole.

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