If I left food out of the refrigerator for some period of time, is it still safe? If I left it out too long, can I salvage it by cooking it more?
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
You cannot see or smell bacterial contamination. Mold that appears to be growing only on the surface may grow invisible roots into softer foods. Do not rely on a visual inspection or "smell test" to tell you whether or not a food is safe.
The Danger Zone
Why does cooking not completely "reset the clock"?
Regulation and Risks
Follow the guidelines set out by reputable regulatory agencies, especially when serving others. Local organizations include:
Other regulatory sources apply in other parts of the word, but major food safety organizations usually agree in essence (if not in complete detail) on most issues.
Failure to follow reputable guidelines is irresponsible if you are serving guests, and failure to follow your specific local codes is likely to be illegal if you are serving customers.
Health codes tend to be very conservative, to fully protect the community. You have the right to take risks on yourself by ignoring their recommendations, but please do not risk the safety of others.
Again, When in Doubt...
Once again, if you suspect spoilage or contamination, please, throw it out.
* Note: this is the FDA's rule. Other agencies may have variations on it. Additionally, government agencies generally make very conservative recommendations - they're trying to make sure that no one who follows the rules gets sick. Breaking the rules means maybe taking on some risk. That's up to you - just remember, eventually someone gets unlucky, and food poisoning is not fun.
Further Reading/Frequently Asked
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I know that a lot of people leave food out with no ill effects. The reason for the precaution is that leaving food out is a gamble. It may be fine or it may have some horrendous microbe or toxin in it. There's no way to know until you get sick. And food poisoning can be devastating. So, as a precaution, it is recommended that you err on the side of caution and practice safe food handling.