So, you left your beans out overnight… Shame on you. (Just kidding—it happens to the best of us.) Now, the big question is whether you can safely just reheat and eat these beans, or if they have to go in the trash.
According to USDA recommendations, cooked beans left out overnight (or for more than two hours) should be thrown away. Even if you reheat the beans to kill any bacteria, there may be heat-resistant toxins produced by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, which reheating can’t destroy.
Below, I’ll dig into this in more detail. I’ll also answer related questions about how to store your beans, and whether you need to refrigerate your dry beans while they’re soaking.
Are Beans OK If Left Out Overnight?
The official answer, based on USDA recommendations: Cooked beans should not be eaten if they were left out for more than two hours.
And if it’s a particularly hot night (over 90 degrees Fahrenheit), the suggestion is one hour. So, no—beans are not okay if left out overnight.
Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit are referred to as the “Danger Zone.” In this temperature range, bacteria double very quickly, and these bacteria can make you sick. (source)
If you ask around about this topic or read on forums, you’ll hear from many people who say it’s fine, and they do it all the time. Frequently, people will say that if you just reheat the food, it will kill the bacteria.
However, as I will cover below, reheating food does not rid the food of all possible toxins that can be created by bacteria. Therefore, if you want to be on the safe side, you should just throw out the beans.
In most cases, you may realistically be fine just reheating the beans and eating them. But if you do, you’re going against the recommendations of the USDA—and for what? To save a dollar on some leftover beans?
How Long Do Cooked Beans Last Unrefrigerated?
Cooked beans last for two hours unrefrigerated according to the USDA. This includes any time spent while you’re at the dinner table. So really, it’s best to put the leftovers in the fridge sooner rather than later for maximum safety.
Can I Leave Beans In a Crockpot Overnight?
If the beans have been cooked, you should keep them refrigerated (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) or else above 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
In between 50 degrees and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, Staph aureus bacteria can reproduce rapidly. So you shouldn’t leave cooked beans in a Crockpot overnight at room temperature.
That said, as I’ll cover below, it is okay to soak dry beans in cold water in your Crockpot overnight.
Does Reheating Food Kill Bacteria?
Reheating food may kill the bacteria, but it’s not guaranteed to get rid of heat-resistant toxins produced by the bacteria. Therefore, you shouldn’t assume that food left out overnight will be safe if you just reheat it.
For example, Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a very common germ that many humans carry in their nose, skin, and hair. When this germ gets into your leftover food and multiplies, it can create a toxin that cannot be destroyed by cooking. (source)
Another example is Clostridium perfringens. Its vegetative cells can be killed with thorough cooking, but its spores may survive. (source)
So, again, many people may swear by just reheating food to kill the bacteria, but this is not adequate according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (source)
Can You Get Sick From Eating Food Left Out?
The CDC estimates that each year in the U.S., more than 240,000 people get sick from a Staph aureus infection after eating food that was left out. (source)
Symptoms usually develop just a few hours after eating the food. These common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, prostration, and abdominal cramps. Typically it takes about two days to recover. (source)
Should You Store Cooked Beans In Liquid?
Generally it is a good idea to store cooked beans in liquid, as it keeps them moist. Often, the liquid they were cooked in also has a good flavor. However, from a safety perspective, there is no need to store beans in liquid—dry is okay.
However, some people prefer to drain beans and even to freeze them. Which brings us to the next subject…
Do Cooked Beans Freeze Well?
Cooked beans can be frozen for two to three months with great results. Typical advice is to drain them before freezing. Use a plastic bag or Tupperware container that has a little bit of extra room for the beans to expand.
The general guideline is that cooked beans will last for 2 hours unrefrigerated, 4 days in the refrigerator, or 2 to 3 months in the freezer.
It’s also recommended to thaw your beans gradually by moving them to the refrigerator first, or just adding them near the end of a recipe. (source)
Is It Safe To Soak Beans Overnight At Room Temperature?
If you’re cooking beans from dry, you typically soak them overnight before cooking. You do not need to refrigerate beans during the soaking process. (source)
Many people like to soak their beans in cold water in their crockpot or slow cooker overnight (source). And as you can imagine, most of those people are not clearing out space in their refrigerator to set their whole slow cooker in the fridge!
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