Is Chinese Food that Was Left Out Safe to Eat? How to Know

Chinese food is everyone’s go-to takeout order. Most orders provide enough food for more than one meal even. But if that extra Chinese food is left out, is it still safe to eat?

Chinese food, like other foods, should not be left out at room temperature for extended periods of time. After preparation, the food’s temperature immediately begins to drop. Once the food has cooled below 140 degrees for a period of at least two hours, it should not be eaten.

Although the appearance of your Chinese food may not change after being left out for a few hours, plenty of microscopic changes have already taken place. Keep reading to learn what happens to your Chinese food, how long you can leave it out, and how to properly store it!

How Long Does Chinese Food Last?

Eating Chinese food always sounds like a good choice, but after it has sat on the counter overnight is it still edible? How long does Chinese food last before it will make you sick?

Well, look no further!

Chinese food left at a temperature between 40 degrees and 140 degrees for less than two hours is still safe to eat.

The FDA refers to this temperature range as the food “danger zone.” Once food has cooled from their cooking temperature (usually 165 degrees) below 140 the countdown begins.

Bacteria immediately begin to form on Chinese food left at this temperature. According to the FDA, food left in the “danger zone” is no longer safe to eat after a period of two hours.

If any food is left at a temperature between 90 degrees and 140 degrees bacteria can double in quantity nearly every 20 minutes. If food will be sustained at this temperature range it needs to be put away within an hour.

Although some of this bacteria can be removed by reheating the food, not all of it will be.

Certain types of Asian cuisine are more likely to attract bacteria than others. The most dangerous food poisoning culprits of Chinese food are rice and fish.

Rice is especially dangerous because it attracts a more stubborn bacteria, bacillus cereus. This bacteria grows rapidly on rice and is resistant to heat. If the rice has been left out for more than two hours, do not even risk eating it after it has been rewarmed.

If Chinese food containing dangerous levels of bacteria is eaten it can lead to a variety of illnesses such as general food poisoning, salmonella, scombroid poisoning, staph infections, traveler’s diarrhea, and many others.

Many will claim the above information to be scientific “hooey” and that your gut is stronger than you think. The fact of the matter is, not everyone will get sick from eating Chinese food that has been left out. But why risk it?

Food poisoning, while not deadly, is extremely incapacitating and uncomfortable. Save yourself the trouble of a trip to the pharmacy by storing your leftovers quickly and properly.

How to Save Leftover Chinese Food

Do not let any of that precious Chinese food go to waste or make you sick by properly storing it at a proper temperature.

Chinese takeout is especially easy to store because it comes in handy to-go containers. But storing them properly does not mean simply stacking all the containers in the back of the fridge to be found again in 3 weeks.

Chinese food should be stored at a temperature below 40 degrees. Getting the food out of the danger zone and to this temperature needs to be done quickly to limit the amount of bacteria growth that takes place.

Stacking containers of hot food on top of each other will delay the cooling process leading to food spoilage. Instead, spread out to-go containers on different shelves leaving space between them and other items when possible.

Another way to make your Chinese food last “longer” is to store it in an air-tight container. Although to-go containers make for easy storage, they let bacteria travel from one item to the next. Instead of keeping your Chinese food in the box, it came in, store it in a reusable Tupperware container.

Another note to consider is the length of storage. Chinese food can last in the refrigerator for around three or four days. Meanwhile, it can survive in the freezer for nearly four months!

Keep your Chinese food from going to waste by eating it shortly after storing it.

Reheating your Leftovers

Does eating cold leftovers just not sound appetizing to you? Not to me either. While cold chinese food is not appealing, neither is microwaved food.

When you microwave Chinese food, some pieces become scorching hot while others remain icy cold. This method of reheating can also alter the texture and taste of the food.

Save the integrity of your Chinese food by reheating it the right way.

For the best result, leftovers should always be reheated on the stovetop. Although this will take a few more minutes than it would in the microwave, your taste buds will thank you for the added effort.

Get a frying pan and heat it to low or medium heat. Add a bit of oil and mix in your left overs.

As the food warms up, add small amounts of water. This will keep it from drying out but still preserve all the yummy flavors. Do not worry, the water will cook out.

This method can be done with any type of left over Chinese food and will always yield the best results.

Not enough leftovers to make reheating it worth it? Well, you could not be more wrong.

My favorite way to reheat Chinese food is to use the steps outlined above and then mix it in a package of ramen (I only use about a third of a seasoning packet for this method). This turns my 20 cents package of noodles into a delicious and filling meal, using nothing more than Chinese food scraps!

Food Poisoning with Left Out Chinese Food

If you ate Chinese food and are worried you may contract food poisoning there is some good news ahead. Many people who eat food that has been left out overnight do not contract food poisoning. For those that do, the good news is most cases do not last longer than 48 hours.

Symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, diarrhea, headache, stomach cramps, and fever. More serious symptoms include dehydration.

Treat your food poisoning with a few days of rest and plenty of electrolyte heavy fluids. If symptoms persist for more than two days or you notice severe dehydration, seek medical attention immediately.


Being part of a really big family, cooking for big groups of people is just how we do things. Cooking, baking, and outdoor cooking have all been huge parts of my life, and I love sharing what I've learned with you.

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