November 15, 2012 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Can I eat it filter: Started some polenta with chicken stock in the rice cooker this morning at 8am. It's timer feature will have it ready at 6:30pm.

Before leaving for work, I started a batch of polenta with 1 cup of cornmeal/polenta and a few cups of chicken stock. I used a new, room temp, aseptic carton of chicken stock which has plenty of salt in it. The rice cooker bowl was freshly washed.

With the timer feature, it'll essentially sit, covered, at room temp until about 5pm when it'll cook, above boiling, for an hour or so. After it's cooked, it'll kick into "keep warm" mode.

It didn't really occur to me that this might not be a food safe operation until I'd already set it up. I have no problem putting salt, water, and starch in a rice cooker at room temp for several hours. Is this polenta recipe so different? Is there really enough protein in the stock for especially nasty bacteria to grow in those few hours? If so, then what of soaking beans or lentils at room temp overnight?

I can certainly throw it out when I get home, and starting a new batch wouldn't be a terrible burden, but I'm more curious as to what the scientific reasoning behind it would be. Thanks!
posted by fontophilic to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So, I think you'd be safe. I would smell it first, but if it doesn't smell bad, I say eat it.

Beans or lentils are dried and bacterial deserts. If you left the soaking of beans and lentils for days at room temp, then enough of the beans would hydrated enough for bacteria to grow.
posted by royalsong at 7:23 AM on November 15, 2012

You'll be fine. Even if something nasty started during the day (and I really don't see how it could), boiling for even a few minutes will kill anything. You are not recreating a culture-growing experiment.
posted by ubiquity at 7:24 AM on November 15, 2012

posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 AM on November 15, 2012

It will be fine. Food that is kept warm needs to be kept above 140 F to prevent growth of bacteria such as E. coli, staph, salmonella. The lowest setting on consumer crockpots is well above that threshold.

The general food safety guideline is that food needs to be kept below 40 F or above 140 F. In between these two temperatures is the "danger zone", where food to be consumed should not be kept for more than four hours.

Credentials: state-licensed food handler
posted by Tanizaki at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2012

You're probably aware that, as you assembled this the air and maybe some incidental surfaces had a chance to inoculate the various foods with bacteria, but if you ran a basically clean assembly (clean ingredients, clean measuring cups, clean hands, stock that has been in the fridge since it cooled from boiling, and closed (if not hermetically sealed) crockpot), there's not enough time for a lot of bacteria to accumulate on the fresh items, not much volume in the crockpot for a lot of airborne nasties, and the air isn't exactly loaded with nasties, the bacteria won't have the numbers to do any damage to the food. Now, obviously the cooking will kill whatever's left in the crockpot, but did any bacteria have any time to make toxins in the food? Doubtful, but if they did, it would be in pitifully small amounts, and slowly so, since the chilled stock slowed them down.

I can tell you that i've made breads in my bread machine that meant leaving eggs sitting on the countertop (in the closed and rubber-sealed machine) for most of the day. Hasn't killed anyone yet! The general cleaning you do, and the cooking you've already done has removed vast amounts of the bacteria threat, but here the assembly procedure and the nature of the appliance (which isn't, I assume, sitting under a dripping pipe, for example) is basically souring the best chances for any opportunistic bugs. Don't worry about it.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:08 AM on November 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.

The issue is that it's not a crockpot, it's a rice cooker. This rice cooker to be exact.

It sits at room temp, then turns on and cooks for an hour. It's in the "danger zone" for 8 hours or so.
posted by fontophilic at 10:16 AM on November 15, 2012

The bacteria may have the time and temperature, but they don't have much opportunity; the issue here is not whether the food will get bacteria-- it will, in 8 hours-- but whether they'll have time to ruin your food before they get cooked to death. In 8 hours, there won't be enough of them, in my considered, inexpert but experienced opinion, for them to make your food toxic or even "off."

There's no air circulating in and out of a rice-cooker, all your foods were clean or dry to being with, you assembled it using clean practices... no worries.

24 hours, I'd say no. 8 hours? I've left food out overnight for longer without harm.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2012

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