How Long Can You Leave Beef Stew Out?

Beef stew is one of those great slow cooker meals you can cook up in large batches. Because it contains meat, beef stew should never be left out too long, or else it could become contaminated with pathogens that may cause food-borne illness.

Danger Zone

To understand food safety, you must know about the danger zone—the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in which bacteria multiply. Eating foods with high bacteria counts can cause illness, especially in people with compromised immune systems. But even healthy people can get food poisoning from foods left in the danger zone for too long. Leftovers must never be allowed to stay in the danger zone for more than two hours.

Handling Leftovers

Stir hot beef stew to encourage an even release of heat. Let it cool slightly, and transfer it to shallow containers with lids. Refrigerate or freeze within two hours. Use refrigerated leftovers within four days, or frozen leftovers within three months. Do not thaw frozen beef stew at room temperature. Place it in the refrigerator overnight, or use the microwave only if you plan to eat it right away. Reheat the stew to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Canned Beef Stew Storage

Canned beef stews are designed to have a longer shelf life than homemade stews. Unopened, they remain fresh at room temperature for two to five years. Once opened, transfer the contents to a container with a lid, and store in the refrigerator for three to four days, or in the freezer for two to three months.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

Just taking a sniff or small taste of the beef stew won't tell you whether it has spoiled, as odor and taste typically aren't changed by multiplying bacteria. If you're unsure whether the beef stew has been out too long, play it safe and throw it away.


Reheating spoiled food does not kill bacteria, as they are resistant to heat, according to the USDA.