You finally managed to make that juicy, melt-in-your-mouth steak you always wanted. After a delicious feast, you decide to take a quick nap before getting to the dishes. But there’s one thing you forget: the leftovers!
Now, after a few hours, is the rest of that perfectly cooked steak safe to eat?
You might be tempted to put it in the fridge and eat it later. It tasted SO good, and you don’t want to waste your culinary achievement. But as I’ll explain in this post, saving steak that was left sitting out might not be the best idea.
How Long Can a Cooked Steak Sit Out?
According to the USDA, you should keep cooked steak outside the refrigerator for no more than two hours at normal room temperature of 70°F (21°C). However, if the room temperature exceeds 90°F (32°C), you should reduce the maximum time out of the fridge to one hour, including the cooling and eating time.
Harmful bacteria can quickly multiply on your food at temperatures above 40°F (4.5°C).
Although cooking kills most pathogens, some may survive and multiply under favorable conditions.
Here are the most critical factors that affect the rate of meat spoilage:
How Does Cooking Affect Bacteria Populations?
When food is cooked to a high enough temperature, the heat can destroy the cell walls and proteins of the bacteria, killing them in the process.
Different bacteria have different levels of resistance to heat. For example, E. coli and Salmonella can withstand heat up to 165°F (74°C), whereas Listeria can only survive up to 122°F (50°C).
When it comes to food safety, you should aim for a “log-7” reduction in the bacteria population. That means keeping the food item at a high enough temperature for long enough until 99.99999 percent of the bacteria die. In other words, only one in every one million bacteria should survive after cooking.
You can achieve this goal by either increasing the cooking temperature or cooking time. For example, you’ll get the same reduction in Salmonella count if you keep the internal temperature of a beef cut at 130°F (54.4°C) for 121 minutes or 155°F (68.3°C) for 30 seconds. Once the internal temperature exceeds 160°F (71.1°C), the large majority of the Salmonella population is killed instantly.
The fat content of your meat also affects the temperature-time combinations. In general, fattier cuts need more exposure to heat.
The table below shows how long you need to maintain your steak’s internal temperature to achieve log-7 reduction at your preferred level of doneness.
|Rare||130°F (54.4°C)||121 min|
|Medium Rare||140°F (60°C)||12 min|
|Medium||145°F (62.8°C)||4 min|
|Medium Well||155°F (68.3°C)||23 sec|
|Well-done||165°F (54.4°C)||0 sec|
As you can see, rare and medium rare steaks need to spend a long time on heat to be safe to eat, which doesn’t happen in reality. (After you leave a steak on the heat for 121 minutes, it’s not going to be appetizing anymore!) That’s why the USDA doesn’t recommend eating steaks that are less than well done.
Note that some bacteria strains are significantly heat-resistant, so you can’t expect cooking to eliminate all your contamination issues. Instead, you should follow food safety practices throughout your preparation and cooking process to minimize your risk of food poisoning.
Can You Reheat Steak After Keeping It Out?
While reheating a cooked steak can reduce the bacteria population, it won’t remove the toxins that bacteria may have already released into the meat. Consuming those toxins can give you food poisoning. So, if your steak has spent more than two hours on the kitchen table, you shouldn’t risk eating it. The longer it sits past two hours, the less you should hesitate to throw it away.
If you decide to reheat steak left out for any amount of time, follow the guidelines in the previous section of this article. You need to bring reheated steaks up to temperature just like you bring raw steaks up to temperature. Ideally, bring the internal temperature up to 165°F (54.4°C) in the microwave or a skillet.
How Can You Tell If Cooked Steak Has Gone Bad?
A rancid cooked steak has a few tell-tale signs, including a sour and off-putting smell and a sticky texture. The sticky substance on the surface of meat that’s gone bad is released by bacteria as they decompose the meat’s molecular structure.
Aside from the two most common signs, you’re also likely to see discolorations on the surface. Spoiled steak may have a gray or brown color instead of the usual pink or red. If you notice any white, gray, green, or bluish spots on your cooked steak, it could be a sign of mold.
In all these cases, err on the side of caution and discard the steak even if the signs aren’t obvious. Also, never try to determine whether a steak is rancid by tasting it. Even a small bite can lead to food poisoning.
Storing Leftover Steak
If you plan on eating the leftover steak in less than two days, keep it in the fridge in a tight container to prevent drying. Otherwise, divide it into portions and freeze it in tightly wrapped plastic bags or airtight containers. This way, you’ll avoid freezer burn, and you won’t have to defrost more steak than you need.
✅ Interlocking lids
✅ AFreezer, Microwave, Dishwasher safe
Cooked steak can stay in the freezer for up to three months, but you shouldn’t refreeze it once it’s thawed. That’s because when meat is frozen, ice crystals form that damage the cell walls, making it more susceptible to bacterial growth. Refreezing the meat causes more damage to the cell walls, making it more likely to spoil and increasing the risk of foodborne illness.
If you’ve thawed the leftover steak but don’t want to eat it immediately, store it in the fridge for up to two days. And don’t forget to reheat it to an internal temperature of at least 165°F (74°C) before consuming it.
What Happens If You Eat a Steak That Has Gone Bad?
Symptoms of foodborne illness include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. The first two usually occur within a few hours after eating a spoiled steak, while diarrhea and fever take longer to present.
Sometimes, the symptoms are mild and resolve within a few days. However, in more severe cases, food poisoning can cause dehydration, kidney failure, and even death. If you experience intense symptoms after eating leftover steak, seek medical attention to prevent complications.
Tips for Handling Cooked Steak Safely
Dealing with cooked steak isn’t hard if you follow proper practices. Here are a few more tips to help you maximize your food safety:
Don’t Let Leftover Steak Go to Waste
Leftover steak isn’t the most appetizing meal since it’s often chewy and lacks moisture, especially if you reheat it to 160°F. That’s why many people leave it in the fridge or freezer until it’s no longer edible.
But with some creativity, you can turn the rest of your steak into another delicious meal that won’t sit in the back of your fridge for long.
My favorite trick is to make steak fajitas. I chop up some bell peppers and onions and fry them over high heat before adding the chopped steak. My fajita seasoning consists of garlic powder, smoked paprika, chilly flakes, ground cumin, dried oregano, and salt. Some people add sugar too, but I like my fajitas hot ‘n’ spicy.
The best thing about a steak fajita is that the steam from the vegetables adds moisture back to your meat.
Here are a few other ideas to try at home if you want something more exciting that old steak:
You shouldn’t leave cooked steak at room temperature for more than two hours on regular days and one hour if the temperature exceeds 90°F (32°C). To ensure that the steak is safe to eat, cook it to the appropriate temperature and for the right duration based on your desired level of doneness.
You can keep leftover steak in the fridge for four days and in the freezer for two months. And you can use it to create other delicious meals such as steak salad, steak fajitas, or steak stir-fry.
If you have any questions about handling and cooking steak safely, feel free to leave a comment below.
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