So, you left your hummus out overnight. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. (Just kidding—it happens to the best of us.) But now you’re wondering: Is this hummus still safe to eat?
Hummus left out for more than two hours (including overnight) should be thrown away according to USDA recommendations. Even if you plan to heat up the hummus to kill any bacteria, there may be heat-resistant toxins produced by certain bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, which reheating can’t destroy.
Below, I’ll explain this in more detail. I’ll also answer some related questions like how to tell if hummus is bad and what happens if you eat bad hummus. I’ll also share the one kind of hummus that you actually don’t need to refrigerate (until you open it).
How Long Can Hummus Sit Out at Room Temperature?
The official answer, based on USDA recommendations: Hummus should not be eaten if it was left out for more than two hours. And if it’s particularly hot out (over 90 °F), the suggestion is one hour.
Temperatures between 40 and 140 °F are referred to as the “Danger Zone.” In this temperature range, bacteria double quickly, and these bacteria can make you sick. (source)
If you ask your friends about this topic or read on forums, you may hear from people who say it’ll be fine. Maybe they say they leave out their hummus all the time and they’ve never gotten sick.
However, The FDA estimates 48 million cases of foodborne illness each year in the U.S. Many people mistake food poisoning for something like the stomach flu. So common people may not be the best authorities to ask on this subject.
People might also tell you that if you heat up the hummus, it will kill any bacteria that had grown.
However, cooking food does not rid it of all possible toxins that were created by the bacteria. Therefore, if you want to be on the safe side, you should just throw out the hummus.
Hummus Left in Hot Car—Is It Safe?
Hummus left in a hot car is only safe for about one hour. The USDA states that perishable food should be discarded if left in temperatures above 90 °F for over an hour.
This also applies to leaving hummus out at a picnic or on your kitchen counter in the summer. If the temperature is between 40 and 90 °F, then it’s safe for about two hours. But if the temperature is between 90 and 140 °F, then it’s only safe for one hour. (source)
How to Tell If Hummus Is Bad
When it comes to hummus that was left out, you shouldn’t try to judge if it’s bad by using your senses. Make the decision based on the number of hours that the hummus spent in the “danger zone” of 40 to 140 °F. If it was in the danger zone for more than 2 hours, throw it out.
Obviously, if you see visible mold on your hummus, that may be a sign to throw it out. But don’t expect that all “bad” hummus will necessarily look bad.
Unfortunately, you cannot rely on your sense of smell and taste to know for sure whether hummus is bad. This is explained in a fact sheet from the FDA:
“You may be surprised to learn that food can make you very sick even when it doesn’t look, smell, or taste spoiled. That’s because foodborne illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, which are different from the spoilage bacteria that make foods ‘go bad.'”
The document goes on to explain that many foods contain a small amount of pathogenic bacteria when you buy them from the store. So all it takes is a few hours of time in the “danger zone” (40 to 140 degree Fahrenheit), and those bacteria can multiply many times.
Here’s the takeaway: Don’t try to “figure out” if your hummus went bad by looking at it, smelling it, or tasting it. You can’t accurately judge the levels of pathogenic bacteria that have multiplied by using your senses alone.
What Happens If You Eat Bad Hummus?
Eating bad hummus can cause you to get Staph food poisoning. This can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Also, although far less common, there are other types of food poisoning that occasionally happen with hummus, as well.
Pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, E.coli, and Clostridium botulinum can cause hospitalization and even death. (source)
While hummus may carry less risk than something like meat, there have been concerns of salmonella and listeria outbreaks associated with hummus several times in the past.
Is There Hummus That Doesn’t Need Refrigeration?
There is shelf-stable hummus that does not need refrigeration until after it is opened. However, all hummus needs refrigeration after the package has been opened. And homemade hummus also requires refrigeration.
If you’re looking for shelf-stable hummus, the classic choice would be Lilly’s Classic shelf-stable hummus (click to check price on Amazon). And here’s another good shelf-stable hummus option from Veggicopia.
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