Is this a case of killer clams?
November 1, 2010 9:53 AM   Subscribe

[Should I eat this filter] I hate myself for even asking this question. I made a quick delicious pasta with vodka sauce and clams for dinner late last week... and then we left the leftovers on the stove overnight. It was covered, still looks/smells delicious, and I'm really craving the leftovers. Is it safe to eat?

The clams were from a can, the vodka sauce from a bottle, and the pasta from a box. It was left on the stove overnight in a covered pot. I put them in the fridge as soon as I woke up. It wasn't particularly hot/cold that night. What could have happened overnight in a covered pot? Am I being stupid for even considering eating this for lunch today?
posted by two lights above the sea to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In general, I'd advocate throwing caution to the wind, but I don't think you want to mess with shellfish. I'd say, throw it out and plan on making the tasty dish again soon.
posted by annaramma at 9:59 AM on November 1, 2010

I would eat it only if the vodka sauce has a good bit of alcohol left in it.
posted by smorange at 10:00 AM on November 1, 2010

I'm pretty bold about this stuff, but I don't play games with seafood. Unless you don't have anything in particular to do for the next three days, I'd chalk this one up to "Better to have loved and lost..."
posted by hermitosis at 10:00 AM on November 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

If it wasn't for the clams, I'd say just eat it - but that could be the residual wisdom of my student years rearing it's ugly head. I still eat fairly old food - pasta especially - all the time, and it's never done my guts no harm.

But the clams are an unknown quantity for me. I don't eat any kind of shellfish, and I'd be very sceptical at their ability to maintain unpoisonousness for any length of time. That said, overnight isn't that long if you stuck them in the fridge straight away in the morning. I'd just eat the damn stuff and put it down to experience if you end up having to take a couple of sick days.
posted by Ted Maul at 10:01 AM on November 1, 2010

Shellfish, dude. No.
posted by SMPA at 10:01 AM on November 1, 2010

Throw it away. If the pot was ever open (as it must have been when you cooked it and served it), microorganisms have landed on your pasta. Given near-ideal growing conditions, some bacteria can double in number every 20 minutes. If even, say, 100 bacteria landed on your dish, and you left it for 12 hours overnight, that's 36 doublings, or 6.87 x 10^12 bacteria.

Now, conditions probably aren't ideal in your pot, and pathogenic microorganisms may not have gotten in. But still, why would you take a chance? Look at the decision matrix:

Eat it, best case: nothing happens, you enjoy some food.
Eat it, worst case: you get really sick
Trash it, the only case: you're out some pasta and have to make something else

You live in the first world and have enough money to purchase more food. Go do that.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:04 AM on November 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

This was last week? Had it been last night, then I'd say go for it. But overnight on the stovetop and then a week in the fridge is just too much, especially with seafood. And I never throw anything out! It physically pains me to tell you that.
posted by Grither at 10:04 AM on November 1, 2010

Seafood? No. Have you ever had food poisoning? It is not worth it.
posted by seventyfour at 10:05 AM on November 1, 2010

Potentially Hazardous Foods (1)
* Milk and Milk Products
* Sliced Melons
* Shellfish and Crustaceans
* Garlic-and-Oil Mixture
* Poultry
* Sprouts and Raw Seeds

bacteria multiply exponentially:
1 bacterium at time 0:10:00 can become over 1 billion at 10:00:00

Foods That Favor Rapid Microorganism Growth
Potentially Hazardous Foods (2)
* Tofu
* Fish
* Meat: Beef, Pork, Lamb
* Shell Eggs
* Baked or Broiled Potatoes
* Soy-Protein Foods
* Cooked Rice, Beans or Other Heat-Treated Plant Foods

The Temperature Danger Zone
(TDZ)=40ºF to 140ºF (5ºC to 60ºC)

* Most microorganisms grow well in the TDZ
* Some survive and grow outside the TDZ

Pathogenic microorganisms can grow to high levels if they remain in the TDZ for more than four hours

posted by ChefJoAnna at 10:08 AM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

OK! That's what I needed. I will throw it away. It was so delicious, and we had so much left of it. Makes me sad, but that's what we get for being forgetful. Thanks!
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:09 AM on November 1, 2010

nthing avoiding it based on the clams. Do NOT.

I'll eat 'em fresh and fried, but I avoid cooking with the little bastards in general, just because the world is full of tasty that doesn't come with (in my experience) a 25% chance of spending the next 24 hours on the pot.
posted by pjaust at 10:09 AM on November 1, 2010

OK, I'm one of the hardcore "SURE YOU CAN EAT IT!" crowd, and even I would hesitate to eat it. Glad you didn't.


That being said, can we dispense with the nonsense about how fast bacteria can grow? Yeah, yeah, yeah, they can; also, a tooth cavity can get infected and kill you, you can have a severe, heretofore undiscovered fatal allergic reaction to a new snack food, and a meteor can strike your car on the highway, killing you and all your passengers. But none of those things are going to happen.

A pot of highly acidic tomato sauce, with a low alcohol content, at refrigerator temperatures (for all but 4 hours) is far from an ideal growth environment. The length of time has allowed the bacteria to multiply that can survive these conditions, but they aren't growing like they would in a 70-F petri dish of specially-selected nutrients.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:48 AM on November 1, 2010

Just in case this comes up again, here is a story that will cure you (or anyone that searches for this later) of even being tempted by the idea of questionable shellfish:

My mum LOVED shellfish - Prawn Salad (shrimp), little pots of cockles and winkles at the seaside, mussels in white wine sauce - she loved them all. It was one of the highlights of family trips to the seaside for her. Then she had a food poisoning incident with some bad shellfish about 10 years ago. She was dog-awful sick for about 3 days, and unfortunately this isn't the worst bit (from her perspective).

She can't eat shellfish now. Any of it, and no matter how fresh it is. Fish, she is fine with, but prawns, shrimp, cockles, anything with a shell will set her off into a miserable and protracted bout of vomit and diarrhea. There was some kind of microbe/bacteria or whatever in the part that made her sick that now leaves her super-allergic to shellfish. If any dish has even one perfectly fresh mussel or shrimp in it, she gets bad-shellfish food poisoning from good shellfish now, and so can't even eat any of it and has to be REALLY careful of this sort of thing now - like Peanut allergy careful. She had one mystery illness a few years ago after eating some fish dish (trout or similar, if I recall) that her husband had prepared and was panicking that she had developed an allergy to the finned variety, but a long and involved chat with the fishmonger they bought the fish from found that he had simply moved his display around the day my step-dad bought the fish and there had been prawns on the place the fish was subsequently put. That was all it was. It was sat on the same ice. That was enough to trigger a bout of the food poisoning bug that my Mum still has in her system somewhere - some fish that had been resting on prawn-ice.

The fishmonger was so (rightly) bothered by this that he asked my step dad to keep him informed on this if they confirmed it, and some reluctant experimentation on my mum's part showed that the fish itself was not at all the issue in later trials (and still isn't). The fishmonger now makes sure he doesn't move his display around without changing the ice out, and my step-dad always makes sure he only buys fish from the same guy if he can because of the care he takes over it.

My Mum is still devastated by this and can get quite upset and grumpy when she sees a nice shellfish dish - she was a serious lover of the stuff. So they went to some lengths to make damn sure that this was the issue, and she has established (with some quite painful testing) that she is still, a decade or so after the initial illness, completely unable to tolerate shellfish. I have taken this lesson on board and despite being relatively gung ho with food hygiene in other regards take absolutely zero chances with any odd looking or questionable shellfish (or questionable looking restaurants serving it) because while I know that the illness my mum has isn't necessarily common, I sure as hell don't want the horrible sentence of not being able to eat any shellfish again EVER. That's a deeply depressing idea, to me, and makes me very very strict with it. Maybe you (OP) will be too, now, but it's a lesson well worth repeating, I think.
posted by Brockles at 10:59 AM on November 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

Yikes, Brockles. Thanks for sharing the personal anecdote. I just started eating fish this year, and I LOVE shellfish. So, I definitely will be careful. In fact, I went to the supermarket and bought some black bean soup (which I just devoured) for lunch, and spoiled myself on some nice cheese. Hopefully, I'll stop thinking about that delicious clam pasta someday...

Thanks again, everyone. You saved me.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:46 AM on November 1, 2010

I ate a bad oyster once and spent the next ten days going to the toilet every 20 minutes until, well...never mind. I lost around 12lbs and my Christmas dinner that year was a glass of lucozade. I am generally pretty cavalier about food safety, but not with shellfish: sitting on the toilet till you cry just isn't worth it.

On a more cheerful note I can still eat and enjoy all shellfish. Except oysters: I can eat them, but I don't feel the same way anymore.
posted by rhymer at 12:37 PM on November 1, 2010

It was a quick delicious pasta made with readily-available ingredients! If you're still hungry for it, make more. Just make a smaller quantity this time so you don't end up with so many leftovers, or invite friends for dinner.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:00 PM on November 1, 2010

One night open? The wisdom - and it is wise - would be to sling it. I would probably chance it, myself, but I'm an idiot about these things. You probably shouldn't be.
posted by Decani at 2:01 PM on November 1, 2010

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