How Long Can You Leave Chinese Food On The Counter?

Ordering takeout is a great option for nights that you just do not feel like cooking — and we think it's even better when you have leftovers for lunch the next day.

With so many online food delivery options available (from DoorDash to UberEats to restaurants' in-house platforms), ordering in is easier than ever before. And Chinese food specifically is of course a popular choice for takeout: Time reported in 2016 there were 45,000 plus Chinese restaurants spread across the U.S., per the Chinese American Restaurant Association. No matter where in the country you're located, the odds of living near one of these restaurants are in your favor.

And when you're ordering in, enjoying a mini buffet of Chinese food is pretty tempting. As there are a wide variety of regional Chinese dishes to enjoy, it can be difficult to settle on just one or two menu items. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says storing and reheating leftover food properly is vital to reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses, but how long can your leftover Chinese food sit out on the counter before it's time to toss it in the trash instead?

What are the risks of leaving food out too long?

Cooking food properly kills dangerous bacteria, but the longer it sits out at room temperature, the longer that bacteria has to regrow. The USDA calls the temperature range between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit the "danger zone," as food has the highest risk of growing dangerous bacteria when stored within this range. As a general rule, food should never be left out for over two hours within this zone; higher temperatures prove greater risk, so food should be refrigerated after no longer than an hour if it is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Uncooked rice can contain Bacillus cereus spores, which the U.K.'s National Health Service says sometimes survive the cooking process. Leaving cooked rice out at room temperature increases the risk for those spores to turn into food poisoning-causing bacteria. The USDA says meat can also be especially dangerous when left out for more than two hours at room temperature — that unfortunately includes your leftover kung pao chicken and stir-fried beef (... and your take-out pizza ... and your go-to burrito).

The best way to make sure your food stays safe and fresh is to put it in the refrigerator as soon as you are done eating, as eating food that has been left out longer increases the risk of foodborne illnesses. Reheating leftovers multiple times can also be risky, so be sure to only heat up what you actually plan to eat.