Food Safety Issues/safety - baked potatoes

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Question
QUESTION: Carol,

I scrubbed and baked potatoes... no foil just skin.... they were, as would be expect, quite hot when finished.  I took them out of the oven to cool, left for 2.5 hours and then refrigerated them in a plastic bread bag.  Do you think they are safe to eat?  If not, I'd appreciate some guidelines.... I didn't want to put them in the refrig right away as I don't like it when they sweat.  I thank for being a resource and for helping me.  Roland

ANSWER: Dear Roland,

The usual cooling time for hot foods is 30-40 minutes before placing them in the refrigerator. However, the restaurant guidelines for cooling food is that you have 2 hours to get the food from hot to 70 degrees and another 4 hours to get it to 41 degrees.  

I'm fairly confident that your potatoes reached 70 degrees within the 2.5 hours they were at room temperature and then reached 41 degrees within the next 3.5 hours which is within the guidelines.

In the future I would aim for refrigerating foods that you take out of the oven 30-40 minutes later.  If they are thick foods, I would slice them and place them in shallow containers that are no more than 2 inches deep.  This will ensure that the foods cool down properly and are within the temperature guidelines stated above.

Carol

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Carol,

Thank you Very much for both the answer and the guideline - and for the speedy answer.  I'll work on keeping to the guidelines.  So [a] Should I just eat a small portion of a potato (1/2 maybe) and see what happens?  Somewhat like survival training... eat a small portion and see if you get sick? and [b] What's my Probable worst possible case?  Of course the worst possible case is I die, which I suspect is highly unlikely.  :)  I'd think it Not very probable that I'd get a lifetime illness, correct?  Probably something just like food poisoning?  I apologize for taking your time with these follow-up questions but now at 67 and newly on my own - she asked me to leave - I have a Lot to learn.  Thanks again for your help.     Roland

Answer
Hi Roland,

The chances that you would become ill from your extended cooling of the potatoes at room temperature is very, very remote.  Unfortunately, foodborne illness causing bacteria are not identifiable by taste, smell or appearance so tasting a potato and seeing if anything happens to you is not the recommended way of knowing if food that has been temperature abused is still safe to consume.  That's why we use time and temperature to determine if a food is still safe.  

As I said previously, we know that if you cool a food down from hot to cold within 6 hours, research shows that this is safe and does not cause the growth of harmful bacteria.  Since you were close to these guidelines I'm thinking your potatoes are still safe to consume.

Of course, there are no full-proof ways to tell if food is safe or unsafe to consume.  What we do know is that if you temperature abuse a food that is capable of supporting the growth of harmful bacteria, then the chances for problems compounds exponentially.

As long as you are cooling down foods within 30-40 minutes after taking off the heat source and then using them within 3-4 days of placing them into the refrigerator, your chances of food borne illness is extremely remote.

A good website about consumer food safety with lots of fact sheets on a variety of topics is: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answer

Carol

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Carol Schlitt

Expertise

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

Experience

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 - www.safeandsavorysolution.com

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

Education/Credentials
BS - University of Illinois MS - Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

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