Can I Eat It Filter: Refrigerator Left Open Edition
July 15, 2013 3:13 PM   Subscribe

We left the refrigerator door open an inch this morning before going to work today. Is our food still okay to eat?

Unfortunately, we just took a trip to the grocery store last night, so our frig is full. Most with yogurt, fruits, veggies, milk, and condiments. My partner and I accidentally left our compact frig open an inch or so, and I'm wondering about whether the food within is still okay to eat?

I'm not worried about the fruit or veg, nor am I concerned about the butter and cheese. The condiments are probably fine, I'm assuming. Yogurts... I think are okay? And I have no idea about our hummus.

My partner closed the frig when he got home 45 minutes before me this evening, around 4:45pm. When I got home at 5:30pm, I temped the milk and got 44.6 degrees F. I am slightly worried about the milk, as it did not drop below the Danger Zone (between 140-40 F) so was collecting bacteria. But how much bacteria? Is the milk still good?

Also, we have a pound of chicken breasts in there as well. The chicken temped 46.4 F just now (6:13pm). I am most worried about the chicken, and ready to chuck it out. Please help me, MeFi!
posted by horizonseeker to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
Toss the milk and chicken ( I'd eat it but I'm not you) everything else is fine.
posted by Max Power at 3:21 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be surprised if anyone could give you a definitive answer. I can tell you from my own experience that I've found the fridge left open a crack overnight and continued to use the milk without problems. I know that if it were me and the chicken passed a sniff test I'd be willing to use it as long as it was well cooked and done so soon--but I don't think anyone is going to be able to give you an absolute assurance about this.
posted by yoink at 3:22 PM on July 15, 2013

I'd eat the chicken if it smelled fine, but I'd eat it today, not Wednesday. The milk, too, might be okay now but will probably spoil prematurely. Yogurt's fine. If you don't trust your nose, chuck the milk and chicken.
posted by jon1270 at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you're fine. This has happened to me before and I didn't even consider throwing things out. I am still alive even now.
posted by Sara C. at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2013

Cook the chicken nice and good today and you're golden. Use as much milk as you can in the next day. At least milk is easy to tell when it's off.
posted by edgeways at 3:26 PM on July 15, 2013

I've left milk on the counter overnight and had no problem but I would throw away that chicken without a second thought. Yogurt, butter, cheese all will likely be okay.
posted by elizardbits at 3:32 PM on July 15, 2013

Butter doesn't actually require refrigeration, it's just good to keep it cool to inhibit mold growth. Same with cheese. They should be fine. I would get rid of the chicken.
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on July 15, 2013

What an exciting opportunity to call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline!

But personally my vote is, toss the chicken. It's not worth the risk. Everything else should be OK (if the milk has gone bad, you will know, it will not be a mystery).
posted by Mender at 3:34 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

my understanding was that open doors force the fridge to use more energy to try to keep food contents at the coldness you've selected in your fridge coldness settings (mine is just a dial from 1-5). no idea if that's correct!
posted by anthropomorphic at 3:37 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

My fridge has been broken for the last two months - keeping food at about 42-45; the milk has been going bad a little bit quicker than usual (like a week and a half rather than 3), but we're all still alive.

The chicken, I'd cook it today and you're probably fine. But of course, no one ever got food poisoning from throwing away food.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would probably just give up on the chicken. The milk I wouldn't worry about. I have - plenty of times - forgotten to put new milk in the fridge and left it out at room temperature overnight. I've always assumed that leaving it out would take a couple of days off its useful life, but since I finish milk well before the date in any case I've just used it as normal. If it stank, I wouldn't touch it, but it's never stunk.
posted by cincinnatus c at 3:43 PM on July 15, 2013

Cook the chicken breasts today. Roast them all (well) in the oven and use them over the next week in salads and so on. Everything else is fine, though the milk might go off a bit sooner than expected.
posted by Magnakai at 3:52 PM on July 15, 2013

This happens to us about once a week because our built-in fridge is improperly tilted forward and we are too lazy to figure out what it would take to pull it out and level it.

In other words, our fridge door falls open one inch nearly every time we close the (side-by-side) freezer. Sometimes we don't see it and it's that way overnight or for a work day. We've always eaten whatever's inside the fridge with no reservation.

I think you should eat it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2013

I've lived at two places with failing shitty fridges(including my current place, ugh. i'm contacting the landlord finally when i get home). At one place the fridge pretty much quit cooling entirely and just started to smell awful.

I've had my food regularly get up to those temperatures at both places, and especially at the first place i was like "Well, i don't really have any money nor would i want to spend it on replacing this food that looks and smells fine. Maybe i'll get the power shits? who cares" and cooked it all.

I've never gotten sick from anything as far as i know. And although i had the milk issue mentioned above and some other stuff going bad/moldy faster than usual it was mostly fine.

If milk is bad you can really tell. It will stink to high heaven and taste incredibly awful. If it smells and tastes fine it's fine.

Think of all the milk left out in crates at schools and such. If it was that easily spoiled there would be spoiled milk freaking everywhere.

So yea, i'd eat everything in that fridge unless it looked or smelled blatantly bad. But i guess it's worth noting i'm the kind of person who will chop the mold off of cheese and eat the still good bits...
posted by emptythought at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've never heard of this DANGER ZONE that you speak of. Sounds terrifying.

If it were me, I'd put down the thermometer and trust my nose and tastebuds. They're really helpful and amazingly accurate like 99.9% of the time. Smells fine? Then cook it (if it's meat) and take a small taste. Tastes fine? Enjoy it.
posted by RingerChopChop at 7:05 PM on July 15, 2013

If you were in a commercial kitchen, you'd be throwing the food out, no questions asked. Because, yes, the food clearly was in the bacterial growth danger zone (above 40 F) for more than two hours.

Don't let the sunk-cost fallacy get you: would you have bought the milk and chicken if they'd been in the discount aisle, marked "improperly refrigerated for a few hours"? If the risk wasn't worth it then, it isn't worth it now.
posted by Dimpy at 8:07 PM on July 15, 2013

I always think of food tossing questions like an imaginary bet someone has offered me on the street where I have some odds to win the cash value of the food, and some to win multi-orifice simultaneous projectile emissions. Unless the cash value is very high, or the odds of losing very, very low, I choose not to take the mysterious weirdo up on their alarming offer.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:41 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

The milk is fine, but it'll go off a bit earlier than it otherwise would. I'm sure you know how to tell when your milk is off. Same for yoghurt.

If the chicken doesn't smell weird, cook it today and eat it. Otherwise, chuck it.

Everything else is fine.
posted by Ashlyth at 5:19 AM on July 16, 2013

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