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Food Safety Issues/Refrigerator left ajar overnight

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Question
I made spaghetti sauce using my fresh grown tomatoes & canned tomato paste, garlic, herbs from my garden, which I refrigerated. Next morning I found my refrigerator door ajar.  Sauce felt cool to touch, but using a meat thermometer it read 55 degrees.  Is my sauce safe to eat?

Answer
Hi Eileen,

How disappointing to find your refrigerator door ajar all night.  I know from experience as my upright freezer door was left ajar and all of the food items on the door defrosted....bummer!

Good question as to whether your sauce is still safe to consume.  Without laboratory analysis there is no way to tell by taste, smell or appearance -- that's because the microorganisms that cause food borne illness do not give off any recognizable traits that they are present. In other words, foods that can support the growth of harmful bacteria can look good, taste marvelous and smell fantastic and still make you ill.

The good thing here is that your sauce probably has a pH of below 4.6 (meaning it is on the acidic side) which does not support the growth of harmful microorganisms that cause man harm.) Tomatoes typically have a pH of 3.9-4.3 (depending upon the variety).  Garlic, on the other hand, has a higher pH (above 4.6) and so does fresh herbs.  The question then becomes is there enough of the higher pH foods present to cause the overall pH to be above 4.6.  If so....my answer is a definite -- pitch the sauce.  

So as you see...there is no way to know if your sauce is still safe or not -- not without laboratory testing.  Because we don't know, the general rule of thumb is to not take a chance and pitch the sauce.  Any food that should be kept either hot (above 135 degrees F) or cold (below 41 degrees F) if left in the Danger Zone (41 to 135) for more than 4 hours should be pitched.  Since you don't know how long your tomato sauce was in the "Danger Zone" and you don't know the pH of the mixture, the best recommendation is to not take a chance and pitch the sauce.

Sorry....

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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