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I left a round steak out for 7 hours in a container of cold water. It was wrapped very well, hadn't been opened yet.

Is it ok to cook this? I planned on cooking it in the crockpot for 8 hours.

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One more thing. Botulism should be taken very seriously. In a non-oxygen environment, the bacteria could contaminate the food, and the toxins will not be destroyed by heat. The probability is very low, but if you are not lucky it could be lethal. Personally, depending on circumstances, I'd do the same as @Satanicpuppy and eat it. –  BaffledCook Jun 25 '11 at 22:54
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The secret to a perfectly relaxing steak dinner: botulism! It's like botox for your whole body, including your heart! –  BobMcGee Jul 5 '11 at 17:09
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7 Answers 7

It's perfectly safe to cook it, as long as you don't plan to eat it. The exception is if the water was at or below fridge temperature to begin with. When food temperature enters the "danger zone" of 40-140F/4-60C, there's a lag time of 2 hours before bacteria go into exponential replication. Any longer, and the bacteria counts start to increase exponentially, doubling every 30 minutes to an hour. With the bacteria counts, the risk of food poisoning increases exponentially. 7 hours is just beyond the pale.

Beyond the time/temperature problem, there are 3 things everyone needs to know about food safety:

  • You cannot smell pathogens, just rancidity/spoilage. With spoilage, your food is definitely unsafe to eat, but it may be dangerous long before it smells "off."
  • Cooking to ~165F/74C kills pathogenic bacteria. Different agencies and foods have slightly different temperatures, but most are at or below this temperature.
  • Cooking will NOT destroy toxins bacteria produce, so heavy cooking is not a solution to meat left out too long. Staphylococcus aureus ("Staph"), chlostridium botulinum ("botulism"), Escheria coli ("E. coli"), and chlostridium perfringens all produce toxic chemicals, which are not destroyed by cooking.

If it was a very expensive steak, I'd be tempted to cut off the exterior and cook it heavily for myself only (would never dare serve to another). But, for a simple round steak? Bin it and buy another, it's not worth the risk.

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+1 for the reasoning. wish I could +1 again for the opening comment - haha! –  zanlok Jul 6 '11 at 1:22
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Botulinum toxin is most certainly capable of being destroyed during cooking; it denatures at 60°C. With that said, there are many other toxins (e.g., diphtheria and the aforementioned E. coli) that are much harder to destroy. Chlostridium perfringens is particularly nasty, since the bacteria can start or continue to produce toxins after you have eaten them, even if they did not produce any toxins in the food itself. –  ESultanik Jul 6 '11 at 17:32
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@ESuntanik: Botulism is a particularly confusing case. I just checked, and wikipedia lists the 60C denaturing temp, but another couple sources list ~80C, and include a pH dependence. Also, the spores for botulism will survive quite high temperatures. Personally, I'd rather not trust to heat denaturing in this case, when death is the probable consequence of a mistake. –  BobMcGee Jul 6 '11 at 17:55
    
@BobMcGee: Agreed, I was just being nit-picky. With regard to the denaturing temp., I seem to remember a blurb about it in your relative Harold's book; I'll check it out when I get home later. –  ESultanik Jul 8 '11 at 12:09
    
The difference between the 60C and 80C temps is the time required for the toxin to be denatured. Higher temperatures will accomplish this faster source. This indicates a 20 minute time for 80C and 5 minutes for 85C. I recall taking a food safety class that claimed lower temperatures could be used if held for much longer. In any case, achieving/holding such temperatures is unlikely and impractical for a steak. –  sourd'oh Jul 13 '13 at 21:51
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You are really tempting fate. Unless your cold water was below 40f (which is doubtful), you have effectively replicated a bacteria culture for 7 hours. Since it's in an oxygen-free environment, your likely bug would be clostridium botulinum.

When your food's surface temperature rises above 40f, or drops below 130f, the safety clock starts ticking. Rule of thumb is four hours to consume. You are almost at double that time. Probably not good. Even though cooking in the crock pot will pasteurize your meat, it's not the pathogens that need to concern you (for the most part), but the toxins left behind.

You may be able to denature any toxins that have grown on your roast by searing ALL parts of the surface (good practice anyway), and then putting it into a preheated crock pot. But it's still pretty risky. So if it were me, I'd discard the beef and order a pizza.

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Hmmm. How old was it to start with? Was it frozen? How cold was the water?

Obviously there isn't going to be anything living in it when you're done cooking it, but if its been warm long enough, you might still have enough dead bacteria/bacterial waste to make you a bit ill.

Myself, I'd eat it, but I'm not very cautious about such things.

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If the water was very cold, I might cook it and eat it too, but... the question specifies a crockpot, and I'd be considerably more worried about the combination of improper storage and slow cooking. –  Aaronut Jun 17 '11 at 15:11
    
@aaronut: Slow cooking usually guarantees longer time at higher temperature than most other types of cooking. Admittedly, there is that warm-up period. –  Satanicpuppy Jun 17 '11 at 15:16
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It's the warm-up period that's the issue. The longer time at "higher" temperature will be around 90° C on the "high" setting, which is nowhere near high enough to inactivate bacterial toxins. I think the crock pot is flirting with danger here; if I'd left a steak out for that long, I'd pan-sear it and get it up to at least medium doneness in the oven. –  Aaronut Jun 17 '11 at 15:18
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@aaronut: For me, if I was slow cooking it, I'd sear it to start anyway. Typical procedure for a pot roast-type thing. Maybe I'd also start the pot liquid at a higher temp as well, if I was worried. Still, 90C is an unreasonable temp for a round steak. Might as well toss it at that point, because you sure wouldn't want to eat it. –  Satanicpuppy Jun 17 '11 at 15:25
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Sure, I wouldn't want to eat a steak cooked to 90° C either, but the lower the temperature gradient in the crock pot, the longer time the meat is going to spend in the danger zone. As long as you sear it first (including the sides, if it's thick) then slow cooking won't make things any worse, so it'd be safe assuming it hasn't already spoiled to the point of being unsafe (i.e. assuming that the water it was stored it actually stayed cold and didn't just start cold). The searing is an important step here though, since that's where the bacteria live. –  Aaronut Jun 17 '11 at 17:25
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Large chunks of frozen meat tend to take several hours to warm up to room temperature for cooking. I see no problem if:

  • The meat has not been in a warm environment
  • The meat looks fine
  • The meat smells ok
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Meat spoilage is almost never visible, and the smell test only works for rancidity, not bacterial contamination. –  Aaronut Jul 3 '11 at 1:42
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Well, people in Asia seem to do this every day without experiencing any problems. So, I would think that it would be quite safe.

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I think it is totaly depended on the environment. If it was at a closed clean area and not very warm it might be safe. Sometimes we left meat meals outside of freezer and eat it again later and nothing happens.

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"The plural of anecdote is not data." Pathogen contamination in industrially processed meats is a random process, and even very unsafe food handling won't always have consequences. Or in other words... even if you or your parents did it hundreds of times and were okay, you might do it the next time and get a wrenching, bowel-busting case of food poisoning. –  BobMcGee Jul 5 '11 at 16:36
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And while we're commenting on statistics, this is necessarily a skewed sample. Dead people don't tell anecdotes. –  MSalters Jul 8 '11 at 13:44
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you people are crazy! Eat the meat!

This is how the internet works, you only end up finding people who are worried about the same things as you, along with people who worry about things to the extreme. Other people wont find this discussion because they dont worry about these things.

7 hours in cold water over night? Where did you get the water? From the amazon?!

Otherwise I think you're pretty safe mate. If, by tiny chance, you get sick, you'll get better, and you're immune system will be stronger. Other people here wont last a second outside of their sterilized bubbles.

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There are a lot of variables here that prevent us from saying: go ahead. As I've commented above, I'd eat it myself, but I wouldn't expose others to a potentially deadly risk. I prefer to be crazy (or to be called crazy) than irresponsible. –  BaffledCook Nov 8 '11 at 17:30
    
You are, of course, entitled to an opinion. However, I think that opinions based on confirmed data are better than somebody's reasoning. The US government paid specialists to observe the bacterial counts in meat left out for different lengths of time, and, based on their findings, created guidelines about food safety. The accepted answer cites numbers from these guidelines. If you follow them, you are reasonably safe from food born illness. If you don't, you have a chance of contracting something. –  rumtscho Nov 8 '11 at 17:42
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This can be a trivial illness which makes your immune system stronger (after a short or long period of misery, possibly aggravated through therapy cost), or something which cripples you for life (see hemorrhagic E. Coli in Germany last summer), or something which kills you outright (botulism). The pathogens which cause these are abundant on farms and contaminate the meat during slaughter, so it is irrelevant how clean your kitchen is. Nobody can stop you from eating the meat, but people whose job is to determine whether it is safe pronounced it non-safe. I don't call that extreme worrying. –  rumtscho Nov 8 '11 at 17:42
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-1 for... well you know people actually die from food poisoning, right? It's not always something you feel sick for a few days and then recover from. You're also encouraging risky food safety practices that are unnecessary and likely to make somebody sick. –  BobMcGee Jan 26 '12 at 14:15
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protected by rumtscho Jan 22 '13 at 18:37

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