Ask Chef Emily: I Left My Soup Out Overnight!

Kabocha Squash Soup   doug young

I made a beautiful pot of butternut squash soup, ate it for dinner, and went to bed. To my horror and disappointment, I realized when I woke up that I never put the soup away in the fridge! Is it salvageable? —Lynne from Seaford

My husband is the night owl in our family, and I am the early riser. This means he’s responsible for packing up dinner leftovers; I get up first and make the coffee. This arrangement works because if I had a dollar for every pot of soup/chili/tomato sauce that I left out in my bachelorette days, I’d be rich.

So, to your question of what can be done. One huge caveat. I am talking home cook to home cook and NOT as a chef, food industry professional and most importantly, not as a microbiologist. In those roles, I’d say unequivocally, without question: toss it. There’s no point in risking food-borne illness and the possibility of hospitalization and/or death over a pot of butternut squash purée.

But in real life …

I’d do a serious cost-benefit analysis while standing in my kitchen cursing myself. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Bacteria doesn’t just spontaneously appear. It has to be introduced from somewhere. Are you currently sniffly and sneezy? Pitch it.
  2. How tidy are you? Is everything regularly wiped down with a 1 percent bleach solution? If not, yeasts and molds hang out in the air, on your sugar bowl, in your dishwasher, and they are harmless at normal levels. However, hanging out in room temperature soup for 8-10 hours might provide the ideal environment for a population explosion. In which case: pitch it.

What I have done, and lived to tell the tale, is bring the forgotten soup back to a boil, let it cool, pack it up and move on with life, eating the leftovers as I would have had I not fallen asleep in front of a Fixer Upper marathon. But I’m playing with fire (and gambling on my immune system).

The problem is that boiling temperature won’t actually kill the really bad molds that, if they exist in my kitchen, can do severe damage. If this topic interests you, Texas A&M has done a great (if typo-riddled) job of outlining the pathogens, their life cycles, preferred habitats and best of all, damage inflicted. 

So verdict? Pitch it. Mourn the loss and learn from your mistake the easy way. The old adage is true: when in doubt, throw it out.

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