We’ve all been there. You’ve either bought a delicious pizza from a local takeout, or made your own (kudos to you), but it’s been a little bigger than you really needed.
Sometimes, as they say, our eyes are just bigger than our bellies, and that’s often the case when it comes to pizza lovers and their pizzas.
But if it’s only a slice or two leftover, you might just pop the pizza on your countertop for a little while and promise you’ll be back in 5 minutes to polish it off before the family get home and try to eat it for you.
But if, like me, you can sometimes be forgetful, you might have left the pizza out for longer than expected. So how long can pizza sit out and still be safe to eat? Let’s find out below!
Fridge Is Best
There’s no denying the obvious here folks, so before I jump into the different guidelines about how long pizza can sit out and still be OK to eat, I thought I’d just address the elephant in the room.
If you’re not sure how quickly you’ll want the pizza leftovers, just put them in the refrigerator. In the fridge, pizza leftovers can last up to 4 days.
But, I’d always be extra vigilant and really check for signs of it going bad after 2 days or so, just because a refrigerator can be a moist environment, and that’s never good for mold and harmful bacteria growth, despite the cold helping stave them off.
Having that flexibility is great, so if you’re ever in doubt, you should always put leftover pizza in the refrigerator as your first option.
But life isn’t perfect and neither are we pizza lovers, so what do you do when you’ve forgotten the fridge and left the pizza to sit out on the counters?
USDA Pizza Guidance
No, the US Department of Agriculture doesn’t have dedicated advice for pizza alone (but they should), however they do offer general guidance for ALL food that’s been left outside of a refrigerator.
And you might not know this, but how long food is safe to eat when left to sit out is much shorter than most people first think.
According to the USDA, no food, regardless of what it is, should be eaten when left outside of a refrigerator for longer than two hours.
They also suggest that in warmer climates and more humid settings, the amount of time you can leave food sitting out before it is no longer safe to eat is only one hour.
But what does that mean? Will your pizza already be moldy in such a short period of time?
What Happens When You Leave Pizza To Sit Out For More Than Two Hours?
I won’t go into all the details about Salmonella and Staphylococcus etc, because I’m here to talk pizza and I can barely say that second one, but actually, it’s really important that you don’t break the 2-hour rule set out by the USDA because what happens after that time is pretty scary.
After two hours, bacteria (like the two mentioned above, among others) start to reach dangerous levels that can easily cause illness.
If the temperature of the room is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (as most room temperatures are) these harmful bacteria start to double in as little as 20 minutes.
That means every 20 minutes, there will be twice as much harmful bacteria on your pizza than there were 20 minutes before, so you can see how bad things can get in just a short space of time.
The room temperatures being between 40 and 140 is what’s known as the ‘Danger Zone’ for bacteria growth, because it’s these warm temperatures that they thrive in.
But things become even more concerning if your room temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, as harmful bacteria can grow even faster in these conditions, doubling more frequently.
In these cases, pizza shouldn’t be left to sit out for more than 1 hour.
So, it’s really important that you don’t eat pizza after it’s been left to sit out for more than 2 hours in a room below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or more than 1 hour in a room above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do The Toppings Influence How Long You Can Leave Pizza Out?
You might think that the toppings would influence how long you can leave the pizza out for.
After all, everybody knows that meat shouldn’t be left at room temperature for long periods, and veggies and fruit tend to last a little better outside of the fridge over time than meat does, right?
Whilst that’s true, the USDA still recommends the 2-hour rule for ALL FOOD regardless of what type of food it is.
That’s because harmful bacteria can grow anywhere, and all they need is a warm environment to start growing much faster than you realize.
So it doesn’t matter if you’ve opted for a four cheese pizza, bbq chicken, or veggie deluxe – if your pizza has been sat outside of the fridge for longer than 2 hours (or 1 in warmer rooms) then it’s safest just to throw it out to avoid risking becoming sick.
What About Pizza Deliveries?
In most cases, pizza delivery drivers will bring pizzas to you in as safe a way as they possibly can.
But it’s always better to exercise more caution when you’ve received a pizza delivery.
You can’t be sure about how long the pizza has been sitting waiting in a warm kitchen before the delivery driver picked up your order, or how long they were stuck in traffic to bring it to you.
I’m not saying you should treat all pizzas that have been delivered to you like a ticking time bomb, but I would suggest you be especially careful with these and aim to get them into a refrigerator as quickly as possible, if there are any leftovers.
I’d also certainly only leave pizza deliveries to sit out at room temperature for no more than an hour before throwing out the leftovers.
So, there you have it. How long can pizza sit out? Only around 2 hours (1 in warmer climates) at room temperature before it no longer becomes safe to eat.
But don’t worry, leftover pizza is great out of the fridge, so try to remember to keep your leftovers in the refrigerator where you can.
That way, you can enjoy your pizza for up to 4 days safely, without having to worry about any Staphylo-what-do-you-call-its!