How Long Can You Leave Beef Stew Out?

By Athena Hessong

Food poisoning does not always come from improperly cooked foods. Leaving foods out too long can increase the likelihood you will get sick from food-borne bacteria. To avoid this, proper handling of leftover beef stew and other foods is critical. Beef stew, because it contains meat, requires special care to keep the pathogens out of the food.

Beef stew requires proper handling to keep it safe to eat.

Canned Beef Stew Storage

Canned beef stews are designed to have a longer shelf life than homemade stews. These products, unopened, will remain fresh at room temperature for two to five years. Once the can of beef stew is opened, transfer the contents to a resealable container, and store for the time period recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. It recommends that you can refrigerate the stew for three to four days. The storage time increases to two to three months in the freezer after opening.

Danger (Zone) Ahead!

To understand food safety, you must know about the danger zone. This is the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, where bacteria multiply. Eating foods with high bacteria counts can result in 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. Leaving cooked beef stew on the counter to cool for more than two hours drops its temperature from a safe range above 140 degrees F to one inside the danger zone. Refrigerated or frozen beef stew left on the counter will increase in temperature to above 40 degrees F. To avoid food poisoning, the leftovers must be handled carefully to ensure that the temperature of the stew does not stay in the danger zone for more than two hours.

Handling Leftovers

With hot beef stew, stir it to encourage an even release of heat from the stew. Cool the stew slightly and transfer it to shallow, resealable containers. Refrigerate or freeze the stew containers within two hours. Use refrigerated leftovers within four days, or frozen leftovers in three months. Do not thaw frozen beef stew at room temperature. Place it in the refrigerator overnight, or use the microwave only if you will fully cook it after defrosting it. Use a food thermometer when reheating leftover beef stew, and cook the stew to at least 165 degrees F.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

Just taking a sniff or small taste of the beef stew will not tell you whether it has spoiled. Taste and odor typically are not changed by the multiplying bacteria. If you are unsure whether the beef stew has been out too long, play it safe and throw it away. Reheating spoiled food will not kill the bacteria, because the pathogens that developed are resistant to heat and cannot be killed through cooking, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.