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I bought some ham from the deli the other day and forgot it in the car for about 5 hours. It was a 77 degree day. When I ran out to go get it the meat still felt cool so I threw it in the refrigerator right away. Is it still safe to eat?

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This is really an issue of risk.

The USDA's recommendation is not to consume meat that has experienced more than four hours of cumulative time between 40° and 140° F. Essentially, that means that the level of risk of illness from food-borne pathogens is acceptable in that range. The government's position is that 5 hours beyond a level of risk that they are willing to expose the public to.

Also be aware that (sliced) deli meat is more prone to pathogens that a whole ham.

That said, it comes down to what level of risk you are comfortable with. Personally, I would probably eat it myself, but not serve it to others.

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I'd probably eat it as well, but I'd throw it in a frying pan for a few minutes first to kill as much stuff as possible. – Matthew Read Jun 16 '11 at 23:01
It's also worth noting that the meat was probably at room temperature for brief periods during packing and cutting... it's safe to assume it already had at least 30 minutes to an hour of time in the danger zone before purchase. When in doubt, the sniff test is fairly reliable as well -- if it smells even slightly off, toss it immediately. – BobMcGee Jun 17 '11 at 3:32

If in doubt, throw it out.

I think the statistics is for every hour left out of the fridge the bacteria (or whatever) multiply by two. Five hours is a long time. Especially if it was intended for sandwiches (therefore, not cooked).

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-1 for mis-information and not a very helpful answer. Deli-cut meat for sandwiches has always been cooked, and while doubling times of bacteria vary, the doubling time for E. Coli (the most likely problem in meat) is 20-30 minutes. – BobMcGee Jun 17 '11 at 3:35
I've always heard listeria was the primary concern for deli meat. Its optimal generation range is 86°–98°F, where I understand it doubles in about 2.5 hours. – Ray Jun 17 '11 at 13:35
FYI, if E. Coli is doubling every 20 minutes, then after 5 hours, you'll have 32768 times as many bacteria as when you started. – Ray Jun 17 '11 at 13:37

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