Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

It strikes me as an unsafe food practice to follow Cook's Illustrated's advice for soaking dried beans for 24 hours unrefrigerated. I've also seen them suggest you soak steel-cut oats unrefrigerated overnight.

Is there some reason why these practices are okay? Would there be any harm in refrigerating them, particularly the beans, while soaking?

From Cook's Illustrated:

Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add [one pound] beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

In fact, although the risk is low, the Penn State Extension does recommend soaking in the refrigerator, or using the quick soak method as opposed to an overnight room temperature soak:

To be on the safe side, it would be advisable to use the quick soak method: Bring water and beans to a boil, cover and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour. Drain and further cook.

Similarly, the US Dry Bean Council recommends (emphasis added):

A 12-hour soak in cold water before cooking helps hydrate the beans and considerably shortens cooking time. Ideally, beans should be put to soak the night before they are to be prepared and be kept in a cool place, or in the refrigerator, to avoid any fermentation taking place. Before soaking, wash them several times in cold water and remove any damaged or split beans. Discard any particles floating in the soaking water, such as small insects from the harvest, specks of dirt or other contaminants.

share|improve this answer

It's not 'unsafe', but is potentially riskier. It is the traditional method, and history is on its side

If these are for personal consumption and you trust the source of the beans or oats and you have good hygiene practices, clean water etc. then go ahead.

Surface bacteria is the primary risk here. You normally wash and rinse the beans first, so most of this should be gone. Rolled oats are steam pressed and quite clean, not sure about cut oats?

For public consumption follow you local health laws, which will most likely require them to be under refrigeration.

In my experience refrigeration does not make much difference. I wash and rinse, bring to boil, change water, and then refrigerate overnight.

share|improve this answer

I know anecdote != data, but I can offer my own perspective: We cook beans once a week (Latin American family), and we almost alwys soak the beans in water on the counter overnight. I've never had symptoms of food poisoning after eating our beans.

My in-laws live in Nicaragua, and most of them soak their beans outside the refrigerator as well. Then again, their cooking methods usually bring the beans to a boil during cooking, and/or they fry the beans before serving.

share|improve this answer
Though interesting, this does not answer the question, i.e. if there is any reason not to soak in the refridgerator, and why it is not unsafe to leave the beans out on the counter overnight. – razumny Feb 6 '14 at 8:39
"Everybody in Nicaragua does it" doesn't mean that it is safe. There are places in the world where everybody drinks water from a river polluted with human, animal and industrial waste. Just because a practice is widespread, it doesn't mean it is safe; it means that it is good enough for the personal risk preference of the people who do it, not for official food safety standards. And while you might be more interested in personal safety standards, their discussion here is pointless, as they are not objectively comparable. – rumtscho Feb 6 '14 at 12:58

Well when it comes to reconstituting foods, often times its best to do it at room temperature because temperature changes solubility greatly. So you may need to soak the beans longer if you did refrigerate them. Even then the texture could be different.

In terms of food safety, I think everyone is way to crazy about this. Many people swear by FDA cooking temps, strict cross contamination rules, and yada yada. Just don't be negligent about it. Know how foods preserve, how long it takes for cultures to gain a foothold, and use common sense. Gain knowledge of your food, don't mindlessly follow over zealous standards from the same departments that lets us eat pink slime labeled 100% USDA beef. As for your situation, if you're cooking the beans, I see no problems. Bacteria that would form in the fluid would easily be killed in the cooking process, just like you can drink boiled water from a lake. What you have to be mindful of is mold. Certain mold spores can be toxic, even if cooked thoroughly. Also consider, a bean before is dehydrated can sit safely at room temperature without going bad. No part of the bean goes rancid quickly, things like milk and fats go rancid, whereas most plant lipids are very resistant to this.

share|improve this answer

I've always soaked my beans overnight, but keep in mind not for 24 hours. 5-6 tops, and the key is to change the soak water several times during the soak process replacing with cool water, drain again before bringing to the boil and simmering. Yes i do soak my beans in the refridgerator during summer months. During the winter though i leave them out,covered.Yes your beans can ferment if you're not contientious about the whole thing, or even sprout! BTW, i never found the quick soak method effective for me. It works but your beans will come out more cooked through if you give em a soak! Also avoid adding baking soda to the cooking water, it makes the beans mushy and flat tasting in addition to leaching out the b-vitamins!Instead,Bring to a hard boil after soaking and skim the scum that rises to the top for the first five minutes(that's where those olligliosachrides are that give you gas)reduce to a simmer adding carminitive herbs like bay or thyme until cooked.Good luck from a gal that's cooked a hill of beans in this life!:-)

share|improve this answer

Simple answear: no harm in either refrigerated or unrefrigerated soak provided that you use the beans within 24 hours, otherwise put in the ref first if you will not use or cook it yet within a day after soaking.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.