Catfish Tikka Death
November 6, 2009 8:02 AM   Subscribe

I may be my own personal typhoid Mary. Food safety questions inside.

1) If I make a big pot of soup, lately this is Mark Bittman's African Chicken Peanut soup (which is friggin awesome), sometimes I make about 1.5 gallons of soup in a big pot. So, when it's done, it's usually hot (duh) and it's at night. So rather than decant it into tupperware things, I leave it in the pot on the stove to cool. In the morning I pour it into tupperware and put it into the fridge.

So question: is it ok that it's sitting out at night, probably after it's cooled down, for a couple of hours? If that's not ok, what should I do differently?

And how long can I eat this tasty soup for? Last time I froze half. After I unfreeze it, how long would it still be good for?

2) I'm going to try to do a chicken-tikka-masala recipe but using catfish instead of the chicken. Again, I will be making several portions, maybe 3-4 meals worth. Can I store this in the fridge or freezer? What's my best practice for not poisoning myself or my friends?
posted by sully75 to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I usually just put the whole pot in the fridge after it's had about 30 minutes to cool off - is that an option for you?

Another option: buy some of those awesome heat-resistant Pyrex storage containers.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:09 AM on November 6, 2009

I was reading Good Housekeeping last night, and they had this alarmist germ article that said you should put cooked food into the fridge immediately.

Personally, I ascribe to the "God made dirt, dirt won't hurt" school. Bring on the germs. As long as it's not very hot in your house and you don't have bugs or mice, it won't kill you.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:11 AM on November 6, 2009

You are definitely not supposed to leave foods like that out overnight. They spend way too long in the "danger zone." You won't necessarily get sick, but you're taking a risk.
I let the stuff cool to lukewarm, then parcel it out into a ziploc bag, or one or more tupperware containers that go straight into the fridge or freezer.
posted by ishotjr at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Personally, I ascribe to the "God made dirt, dirt won't hurt" school. Bring on the germs. As long as it's not very hot in your house and you don't have bugs or mice, it won't kill you.
Have you ever had food poisoning? It won't kill most people, but it sure as hell isn't any fun.
posted by ishotjr at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2009

Response by poster: ok this is good. Thanks for saving my life.

I think I remember someone telling me you were not supposed to put hot food in the fridge because it would make the other food go bad. Is that not true?
posted by sully75 at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2009

I tend to decant things into the smaller Tupperware right away and let THEM all cool down; that usually only takes an hour or so (lots of little bowls = less time to cool down).

But: I've also heard a trick some people use -- you know those big blocky "cooler packs" that are plastic with gel inside, and you freeze them to use in your cooler instead of ice? Keep a biggish one in your freezer, and then when you make a big pot of soup you want to cool down in a hurry, throw it in the pot -- or if it's long and narrow, use it as a stirrer and stir your soup. It'll cool your soup down in a big hurry (or at least make a serious dent, to the point that you can then let it sit for just an hour and finish the job).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 AM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Stop by a restaurant supply place and pick up an ice wand -- you'll be able to cool a pot full of hot liquid in a few minutes.
posted by foodgeek at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Unless your kitchen has an open winter weather window, no.

Easy solution for you. Let the pot cool for 30 min, then fill your sink with ice and cold water. Stick your pot in it, making sure it doesn't float and tip over. It'll be cool enough to go in the fridge in another 30 or so. Also, you can keep a water bottle in the freezer, and use it as an "ice wand", which is a technique commercial kitchens use.

USDA says 3-4 days in the fridge is safe for cooked meats. I usually go 5-7. If I know it won't be eaten in 5 days, I'll freeze part.
posted by fontophilic at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

We always cool the soup pot in a sinkful of cool water. It's much, much faster than letting it cool in the air. Then we stick it in the fridge.

Our rule on how long it's good for is one week, adding up all the time before it's frozen and after it starts to thaw, starting the clock at two hours after the heat's turned off on the soup. Some people say less than a week.

If you boil the soup again, it kills all the current bacterial growth and resets the spoilage clock.
posted by Ery at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2009

I just plug the sink, put the open pot in there and then fill the sink with cold tap water until the pot almost starts to float. Then stir the pot a few times over 30 minutes, cover, and put in the fridge.

Leaving anything with chicken in it out overnight is revolting and I personally can't believe you haven't become violently ill yet. And once again there's already terrible advice in a thread about food safety.
posted by peep at 8:23 AM on November 6, 2009

Best answer: I used to work as a cook. As I recall, the food safety guidelines are as follows:

- Soup must be completely cooled within a short time -- 2 hours, maybe (this takes it out of the "danger zone" fast enough so that bacteria can't grow in it).
- Do not put hot food directly in the fridge (it will raise the temperature of the fridge and can cause the entire fridge to spoil).

The way to accomplish this is with an ice wand, as foodgeek pointed out. A good, cheap alternative is to use a water bottle full of frozen water -- just submerge it in the pot to cool it down fast. You can find instructions (not that you need 'em) here.
posted by ourobouros at 8:25 AM on November 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

A good way to cool it is to pour it into wide flat container, perhaps a roasting tray, and leave it out for a while. You can then put it into the fridge for the rest of the night. Also, if you can freeze it in smaller units that would be good, then you would only need to defrost what you need.
posted by knapah at 8:25 AM on November 6, 2009

We always cool the soup pot in a sinkful of cool water. It's much, much faster than letting it cool in the air.

I do this when I brew beer. Add some ice and it will cool down even faster.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2009

The best way is what Empress Callipygos suggests: portion out into smaller Tupperware containers immediately, then they'll cool to room temperature a lot faster.

Cooling down is a function of surface area, so in the same way crushed ice melts faster than a large block, portioned out soup will cool faster than a large pot. As a bonus, it's already portioned for later consumption, and you don't have a giant container taking up space in the fridge when there's only 1-2 servings left.
posted by explosion at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2009

FWIW we do the exact same thing with chicken soup all the time, and I don't care how "revolting" peep thinks it is. The chicken is cooked; it simmers in the pot for hours and we leave it to cool overnight. The next day, when we take it out of the fridge, we again bring it to the boil and simmer it until we want to eat it.

We've never been sick.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think I remember someone telling me you were not supposed to put hot food in the fridge because it would make the other food go bad. Is that not true?

The issue here would be that big enough, hot enough container will raise the air temperature in your refrigerator and so, eventually and depending on how quickly your fridge can respond by cooling the hot food, raise the temperature of everything else in your fridge.
posted by onshi at 8:34 AM on November 6, 2009

Um, DarlingBri, it's not "revolting" it's dangerous.

The tried and true method is the immersion method mentioned upthread. Let it cool for a while and then put the pot in a sink with cold water -- stir the soup and this will circulated the cooling soup at the edges and cool the whole thing down. Once it's below the "hot" stage then put it in the fridge. It doesn't take very long and it gives you a much better chance at keeping the food well and not making you or anyone else sick.

I like the ice wand idea, though! Will have to try that.
posted by amanda at 8:53 AM on November 6, 2009

Regarding your question about "how long will the frozen soup be good after thawing" - personally my method is to freeze leftover soup in multiple single-serving size containers. So I only thaw as much as I'm going to eat right away. But otherwise, if you froze it pretty much right away after making it, I'd say it'd be good after thawing almost the same as if it hadn't been frozen - i.e., a few days.
posted by dnash at 8:54 AM on November 6, 2009

Best answer: In a restaurant cooks use big wands of ice. to go from "hot soup on stove" to "storing in a fridge" as quickly as possible. 15-20 gallons of stock can usually cool to safer temperatures in about 15 minutes, and then probably cool to maximum saftey (once in the walk-in) in 5-15 more minutes: This means the soup spends a short amount of time in the band of temperatures where bacteria and such thrive (130 F down to about 45 F). HAACP saftey has you shoot for under a 2-hour window out of the fridge (Prep time + cooling time + holding time + reheating time during service). Cooking to boil, then bringing down to 180 (simmer) doesn't count as much against saftey concerns, because it is a hostile environment inhibiting growth.

How to do this at home:
Before you begin making your soup (preferably the day before): Take two nalgene bottles, fill them with water and seal them. Freeze them. When the soup is done cooking throw one sealed bottle into the hot pot of soup. Stir. If it isn't cooling down fast enough (15 minutes), or the ice melts to fast, throw the other bottle into the pot.

Now, with your soup at cool temperature, transfer it to tupperware containers, and get it in the fridge. It takes 15 minutes of addtional work, but you take preventative measures against bacteria, virus and parasite, growth, as well as discourage mice from rampaging through your kitchen and pooping in your soup overnight...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:36 AM on November 6, 2009

If you cover it to prevent dust from entering, leaving it overnight to cool wouldn't be a big deal. The heat will kill everything and if you prevent contamination (by covering it) it should stay pretty safe. Mind you, that lid has to be on the pot and get heated as well to kill anything on the lid.
posted by chairface at 9:45 AM on November 6, 2009

Best answer: I don't like to put hot soup into plastic, in case petro-cooties leach out. I put a potholder on the glass fridge shelf to avoid thermal shock cracking the glass and put the pot in the fridge. The pot was simmering, had a lid on it, and I probably left it for 20 - 60 minutes to cool 1st. Modern fridge can cope with that easily.
posted by theora55 at 10:08 AM on November 6, 2009

Sheesh, none of y'all ever want to eat at my house. I always leave covered pots of food to cool overnight before refrigerating and have never had food poisoning at home (only once from a restaurant meal that made others sick, too). I have no desire to go through that again, but I'm not worried about my current process.

I'm very careful about not leaving uncovered food sitting around, but I figure the lid is enough of a barrier to microbes which might be blowing around the kitchen that I'm OK with a few hours at "hospitable" temperatures. The leftovers get eaten up over the next few days, which is fast enough to keep ahead of any micro-organisms that might have gotten inside the pot. Food doesn't have to be sterile - we have an immune system to deal with a reasonable load of microbes. If something looks or smells suspicious I toss it, but otherwise I don't worry about microbial contamination.
posted by Quietgal at 10:17 AM on November 6, 2009

I'm not sure where you live but where I live -- a place where there is real winter -- I often put the covered pan out on the porch for an hour and then bring it in and put it in the fridge.
posted by jessamyn at 10:44 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My rule is never do anything at home that could get me sued at the restaurant I used to work at, and that includes leaving food out overnight. You may never get sick and thats fine, but even a lid isn't going to keep microbes out. You might get really, really sick. On the other hand, you can put food directly your fridge most of the time. If you keep meat in the fridge you might want to ice bath it first, but we just have veggies and some condiments in our fridge, so if the temperature raises it's not a big deal at all. That rule is mostly to keep restaurant cooks from putting big batches of hot food in a stuffed fridge and raising evrything into the danger zone. To cool it down faster in the fridge and lessen any risk, you can pour it into a 9X13 until you are ready to portion it out.

With the tikka, leftovers are 3-5 days in the fridge and 1 to 3 months in the freezer. Tikka sauce has always frozen and reheated very well for me personally, so I think you will be fine.
posted by itsonreserve at 11:01 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Keeping it covered doesn't magically keep stuff from sprouting in there. Many bacteria/fungi have spores that can survive high heat and then start growing when it cools down. So that's not good at all.

Still, I do this just about every time I make stock and have never gotten sick from it. I always re-boil the stock, though, so YMMV. I'm also usually cooking 4 gallons of the stuff at a time and it's still probably 90F after a full night sitting out. It probably isn't in the <>
Food poisoning is always a risk. You're eating SOME of these bacteria every time you open your mouth. They live in you. They're on your veggies, under your fingernails, on your toothbrush, in the air. EVERYWHERE. The number of bacteria in your mouth right this second is well over the number of people living on earth, and many are harmful in large enough quantities. You don't get sick because your immune system can usually deal with normal numbers of them just fine.

You can limit your exposure, but you cannot eliminate all risk. If you get too paranoid about food safety, you're going to miss out on some of the best food in the world. I eat undercooked or uncooked eggs, cook my steak rare, make all sorts of fermented things (pickles, sourdough, beer, hard cider) and consume raw milk on occasion. The only time I've been sick from food is at a restaurant.

A lot of USDA guidelines are overly cautious. They cover everyone, including people with immune systems in much worse shape than yours. A restaurant is supposed to be safe for a 90 year old woman going through chemo, after all. Only ~0.2% of deaths are from food borne illness, and most of those are very old/young people. So yeah, relative risk of doing this compared to driving to the grocery store? Not so bad.
posted by paanta at 11:06 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This was great...answered all my questions and then some. Much appreciated! Tikka was a qualified success but pretty good for the #1 time.

posted by sully75 at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2009

When I make stock/soup/whatever, I fill the sink with ice water / kosher salt, then put the pot in there. I also add a few cubes of ice to the stock to speed things up. Leave it there till chilled, then put in the fridge.
posted by charlesv at 11:20 AM on November 6, 2009

FWIW, I also do this all the time (like DarlingBri, chairface, and Quietgal), and like them, have never had a problem. Obviously it would be totally unacceptable in a restaurant setting, or if I were living with someone medically vulnerable, but I'm not, so I'm OK with what appears to be a pretty small, though nonzero, risk.

Re the "cooking sterilized it, and there's a lid on" notion (hey, it worked for Pasteur!)— that's been my notion as well, but OTOH wikipedia has this to say about one of the common food poisoning organisms:
The Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin (CPE) mediating the disease is heat-labile (dies at 74C) [....] Since C. perfringens forms spores that can withstand cooking temperatures, if let stand for long enough germination ensues and infective bacterial colonies develop.
So there's that.
posted by hattifattener at 2:25 PM on November 6, 2009

It's pretty hard to be your own typhoid Mary, since the bacteria/germs you carry are ones you're used to. In a restaurant setting with grandma and babies coming to eat, you don't want germs swapped around and shared, because that's when people get sick.

(My own theory is this is why people get sick when overseas- it's not because it's 'dirty' but because it's different germs to what you're used to.)

You want to put the pot in cold water, or put the soup into shallow containers, or use that cool ice wand thing. The pot of food in the fridge, or on the stove? the core can be sitting at bacteria happy zone for way to long... cool all of the soup down properly and you're good.

Of course, food at home you can be a bit more lax- it's when you are cooking food on an industrial scale that you have to worry about this stuff more.
posted by titanium_geek at 4:21 PM on November 6, 2009

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