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.

  • I know it's common practice in the US to ask whether or not something food related is 'safe'. However, if you think about this wording, it's somewhat misleading. What do they specifically mean by 'safe'? What are you afraid of, specifically? Unless you are more specific, your questions, as well as answers to your question are lacking proper 'foundation'. Oct 17, 2018 at 7:42

8 Answers 8


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.


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.

  • 4
    Don't know about beans specifically, but food poisoning has more to do with bacteria waste products, which are not destroyed by cooking.
    – Casey
    Sep 5, 2017 at 15:30
  • This answer is underrated. Especially the second paragraph about the safety-craze the FDA etc.. Also note that not all bacteria or funghi are necessarily unhealthy. And some only are, if your body is weak. Oct 17, 2018 at 7:47

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.

  • 1
    What surface bacteria are you talking about? Bacteria aren't generally 'risky'. Oct 17, 2018 at 7:43

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.

  • 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, 2014 at 8:39
  • 3
    "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, 2014 at 12:58
  • 1
    @rumtscho He already noted that anecdote != data, but anecdotes remain important. There are lots of questions of what's safe and what's not and knowing that a big portion of the planet just doesn't refrigerate them ever but eats them hundreds of times can help someone who left it out once and doesn't want to have to go cook something else. Since at worst, you're only experiencing 1/500th the risk of the Nicaraguan, and they're doing just fine anyway. I will note that the standard recipe for fermenting beans, is leaving it to soak for several days. No salt or vinegar or anything. Apr 24, 2019 at 18:48

I generally refrigerate, which certainly does no harm if you are not in a hurry (though I find a refrigerated soak of 8-12 hours is not noticeably different from 24 or more), and in fact have left them in the fridge for as much as a week without problems (I generally change the water if they are in there that long, as I'm of the "soak that crud out of my beans and send it down the drain" camp rather than the "but there might be nutrition in the nasty polysaccharide slime that comes out of the beans" camp.)


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!:-)


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.


soak water should have an acidic medium: lemon juice or ACV. I soak beans for over 24 hours with no risk. I do the same with walnuts (6 hours, not more than 8 depending on ambient temperature), almonds (8 hours). Soaking is not just to cut down on cooking time, but to remove phytic acid. Soaking in salt water is also recommended, but I personally like the acid soak better. Draining beans two to three times during the soak period is also very important; refill bowl with beans with fresh water, again add lemon juice or ACV (or salt). Drain nuts really well at end of soak period (you may change soak water too, depending on intention such as removing the phytates and not have it reabsorb), add sea salt (work it in with your hands) and small amount of herbs/spices of your choice (a fav in my home is curry powder and/or saffron, thyme, basil, cayenne; be creative), spread nuts on pyrex or stainless steel pan, set your oven to low temp, not over 150 (I prefer 125 to 130) and allow to dry slowly over a period ranging from 12 hours to 24, sometimes even more, depending on amount of nuts, size and temp of your oven. Stir the nuts a couple of times during the drying period and re-spread evenly in the pan. Also, you may purchase a dehydrator and follow instructions. Slow cooking beans, slow drying nuts is the healthiest thing you can do to consume these foods.

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