Is Soup Left Out Overnight Safe to Eat?


Like all foods, soup has specific guidelines for when it becomes no longer safe to eat. Here is what you need to know about leaving soup out overnight and when soup becomes unsafe to eat.

As a general rule, soup left out overnight at room temperature should be thrown away. When any food substance, including soup, enters the danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and stays there for more than two hours, it should be thrown out. This will help prevent food-borne illness and bacteria.

Here is a guide to knowing when your soup should be thrown out, when it’s safe to eat, how to properly store it to safely eat later, and the bacterium that could be in your cooked soup.

Soup with broccoli, carrot, and potatoes
Soup with broccoli, carrot, and potatoes

Here is a guide to knowing when your soup should be thrown out, when it’s safe to eat, how to properly store it to safely eat later, and the bacterium that could be in your cooked soup.

Leaving Soup Out Overnight

The simple answer is that you should never leave soup out overnight. This puts the soup into the danger zone thus putting you at risk of catching different foodborne illnesses. The danger zone is 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit and is the ideal temperature for bacteria to grow. Food should not be in that zone for more than two hours.

You should always put your soup away and store it in the fridge. You do not need to wait for the soup to cool down before putting it into a correct-sized container and putting it in the fridge. It will last for about one week once in the fridge. In order to prevent your soup from going bad once properly stored in the fridge, it is best to label its container with the date it was placed in the fridge. (Source)

When reheating your soup, be sure to heat it up past the danger zone or to the point where it steams before eating it. This will help kill off any bacteria that may have started to grow in your soup, making it safe for you to eat and not get sick.

The Danger Zone

Graphic demonstrating the food danger zone
Graphic demonstrating the food danger zone

The Danger Zone is the term used for the temperature range of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. When food is in this temperature range, the bacteria inside of it can double every 20 minutes, depending on the type of bacteria and the exact temperature. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Food should not be left in this temperature zone for more than two hours. However, that two-hour time diminishes the higher the temperature of the food is. So, food sitting outside in the summer heat of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher should not be left in that heat for more than an hour. Food taken out of the fridge should not be left out for more than that two-hour time limit. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

When cooking, you should do your best to keep the food above or below the danger zone, especially when it comes to meats, dairy, and eggs. Those particular foods tend to have more dangerous bacteria and need to be cooked and kept properly in order to prevent you from getting sick.

Storing Cooked Soup

When storing cooked soup, it needs to be out of the danger zone. That means storing the soup below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It is best to do this in a shallow Tupperware that best fits the amount of soup you have. Putting it in something too big will give a longer cooldown time, giving bacteria more time to grow, and putting it in something too small causes a little mess and requires another Tupperware.

Food in Tupperware containers in a fridge
Food in Tupperware containers in a fridge

There is a common misconception that you need to let your soup cool before putting it into the fridge. While allowing the soup to cool before putting it into the fridge will help with weeping Tupperware sides, that’s about all it does. As long as the Tupperware is shallow and the right size, your soup will be okay. You’re going to get a little bit of condensation no matter what you do. The most important thing is for your soup to stay out of the danger zone. Thus, you do not need to let your soup cool before storing it away in the fridge.

If you do choose to let your soup cool in order to reduce weeping Tupperware sides, do not let it sit at room temperature for longer than two hours. If you do, the bacteria will reproduce at rapid rates and will make your soup bad.

Reheating Cooked Soup

When reheating anything, especially soup with meat or dairy products, it is important to heat it up to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until it starts steaming. This will help kill off any bacteria that have multiplied during the time of storage and reheating. It’s important to reheat cooked food to kill off this unwanted bacteria so you don’t get sick.

However, you should know when the refrigerated soup has gone bad. The best way to do this is by labeling your Tupperware or container of soup. Properly refrigerated soup’s shelf life is about 3–4 days, depending on the soup. After that, the soup should be thrown out.

Leaving Soup Out Overnight Safely

If you do not want to put your cooked soup in the fridge, there are a few ways you can keep it out of the fridge without it going bad or hitting the danger zone.

Crock-Pot

This is a classic way to heat up your soup. You can keep your soup on the warm or low settings for longer periods of time in order to keep it hot and ready and out of the fridge. This is great for catering events, parties, or for keeping the soup warm for during dinner.

The biggest downside is the possibility of burning the sides and bottom of the soup. Because of this, it is a good idea to stir the soup on occasion. Your soup can be left in the crock-pot for as long as you like, as long as it keeps the soup above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If your crock-pot is keeping the soup above 90 but below 140, it should not be there for more than one hour.

Simmering on the Stove

This is a good option if you are making soups, broths, or stocks that need to stay at an almost boiling temperature for longer periods of time. This option is best for during the day when you are awake so you do not make your soup a fire hazard or burn it. To avoid it being a fire hazard, it is best to not leave your soup unattended. To prevent burning the soup, stir the soup every once and a while, adding more liquid when necessary.

How do I Know if my Soup has Gone Bad?

The biggest tell-tale sign for knowing if your soup is bad is if it smells, tastes, or looks funny. However, a lot of the time, the spoiled soup will not appear to be bad at all. So, besides the obvious, it’s best to go by the shelf life of refrigerated soup, which is about 3–4 days.(SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Soup with Cannellini beans, carrot, cabbage, beans, silverbeet, kale, and onion
Soup with Cannellini beans, carrot, cabbage, beans, silverbeet, kale, and onion

You should date your Tupperware to help yourself know when your soup has gone bad. But sometimes, even when the soup is technically in the middle of its shelf life, it can go bad. So, don’t be alarmed if your soup doesn’t make it the full 4 days.

However, if your soup has not been properly stored, it may go bad before the 3–4 day shelf life. This may not be noticeable because the soup itself will not be any different, but it will be full of bacteria. That is why it is so important that you store your soup correctly.

The bottom line is this: don’t eat your soup if it looks, tastes, or smells funny; store your soup properly in the refrigerator; reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until steaming; and label the date you put your leftover soup in the fridge on your Tupperware. Doing all of this will help you stay healthy and safe from food-borne illnesses.

The Possible Bacteria in Your Cooked Soup

Simple slow-cooker ham and Cannellini bean soup
Simple slow-cooker ham and Cannellini bean soup

There are five popular bacteria that can lurk in your soups. Some bacteria produce spores and toxins that are worse for you than the bacteria itself, like Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph.

Salmonella

The CDC estimates that Salmonella causes about 1.35 million cases of illness a year. Salmonella is a bacteria that resides in the intestines of people and animals and is caught by contaminating foods or liquids or by touching infected animals and/or their stool. (Source)

Salmonella is most often recognized by its symptoms of stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea. There can also be nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Symptoms can start 6 hours to 6 days after exposure and last 4–7 days. Most people do not need antibiotics and get over it in about a week. However, people who are at high risk may need medical attention. It’s a good idea to go see a doctor if you get bloody stool or if your fever is not going away. For as long as diarrhea exists, you should drink lots of fluids.

Sometimes these symptoms continue after getting rid of the bacteria. It isn’t totally uncommon to have diarrhea for up to several months after getting Salmonella.

E. coli

Like Salmonella, E. coli lives in the intestines of humans and animals. However, most strains of E. coli are actually healthy and needed in order to keep a healthy gut. Because the unhealthy E. coli is spread via feces, it is best to avoid uncooked meats, unpasteurized milk, and swallowing lake water. As always, it is a good idea to wash your hands regularly. (Source)

E. coli has similar symptoms to Salmonella but with little to no fever. It also lasts a bit long in both stages of catching E. coli (anywhere from 3–4 days) and suffering through the symptoms (5-7 days). Vomiting is also much more common for E. coli than for Salmonella. Like with salmonella, you should see a doctor if your stool or vomit is bloody, if your fever persists with diarrhea or vomiting, or if you are vomiting so much you can’t keep down liquids.

As far as treatment goes, the best treatment is time and staying hydrated. Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for E. coli because it doesn’t help more than hurt.

Staph

Staph infections are fairly common because they come in so many different varieties. Most staph bacteria are found in your nose and are harmless as long as you remain healthy. Staph produces a toxin that causes food poisoning. These toxins cannot be boiled or cooked out of food, hence why it is quite a menace and a danger. The biggest prevention of staph is washing your hands. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Poultry noodle vegetables soup in a metal casserole
Poultry noodle vegetables soup in a metal casserole

The most common symptoms of food-borne staph infection are sudden bouts of nausea, vomiting, bad stomach cramps, and occasionally diarrhea. Symptoms appear 30 minutes to 8 hours after infection and last no more than one day.Staph cannot be passed from person to person. The biggest differentiator between staph and any of the others is that staph is very fast.

Botulism

Botulism is probably more on the scary end of bacteria than the above ones. Botulinum toxin is caused by a bacterial toxin that creates muscle paralysis. In the food world, it is most commonly found in improperly canned, preserved, or fermented foods. (Source)

Botulism is determined by muscle paralysis. When it comes to being passed via food, it includes all of the classics: vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. However, this can quickly turn into more serious things like muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, blurry vision, slurred speech, difficulty breathing, and more.

The best prevention is canning food correctly. It is treated with antibiotics and other medicines.

If you or a friend or family member are having symptoms of botulism, see a doctor immediately. It can get very bad and become fatal.

Campylobacter

Campylobacter is the number one bacteria that causes diarrhea in the U.S. Chickens, turkeys, and cows often carry Campylobacter without showing any signs. Milk, fruits, and veggies that have had contact with campylobacter are the biggest culprits. (Source)

Just like all the other food-borne illnesses, Campylobacter symptoms are diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. The best treatment is time and water. Symptoms start 2-5 days after infection and last for about 1 week. See a doctor if stool becomes bloody.

Anna Silver

Anna Silver is the principal creator of CookForFolks.com, a website dedicated to new go-to original recipes. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, Anna has a passion for treating the people in her life to delicious homemade food and loves to share her family recipes with the rest of the world.

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