Food Safety Issues/salad left in car 4 hours


i made a lovely tossed salad with romaine, iceberg, carrots, boiled egg, feta cheese, black olives and cucumbers for my lunch at work. i put it in a small cooler lunchbox (no ice pack) in my car at 6:30. at 11:00 i remembered i left it in my backseat! is it still  safe to eat? the bottom of the salad container was still slightly cool to the touch. How about the half full bottle of Fat Free Catalina dressing i packed as well. HELP!

Hi Susan,

If you were a restaurant, you would be allowed to serve the salad and dressing up to 4 hours after removing it from refrigeration (41 degrees F or below).  After 4 hours they would have to throw the product out -- they could not re-refrigerate and serve it at a later time.

Chances are good that both the salad and dressing are still safe to consume, but I can't give you 100% assurance.  Of course, the general recommendation is to throw out potentially hazardous foods -- those capable of supporting the growth of harmful bacteria such as eggs and leafy greens, that has been in the "Danger Zone" -- 41 to 135 degrees F -- for more than 2 hours.  This is erroring on the side of caution. Because you can't tell by sight, smell or taste if a food is still safe after it has been temperature abused, the general recommendation is to not take a chance and pitch the food.

I hope this has given you the information you need to make a decision on the safety of your salad and dressing.


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Carol Schlitt


I can answer questions on home food safety, sanitation and home food preservation.


I am a former Extension educator, nutrition, wellness and food safety, having retired August 1, 2010. I am a food safety instructor for the Illinois Department of Public Health, a ServSafe Instructor/Proctor and have my own company, Safe & Savory Solutions, Inc -

National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (Past President and current Historian), St. Louis Culinary Society.

BS - University of Illinois MS - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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