Probably a table showing the shelf life at room temperature for food like bread, peanut butter, butter, sausage, ham, chicken nuggets, fish filet, etc


There is no need for such a table, so I doubt that you'll find it.

There are two types of food, food which is spoiled by disease-causing organisms, and food which is spoiled by other mechanisms or not at all.

Food which is spoiled by disease-causing organisms has the same safe shelf life outside of the fridge: 2 hours. Anything above it is considered unsafe. It doesn't matter if it is chicken nuggets or a smoothie. Once in the fridge, the shelf life is considered to be about 3-5 days, although there are exceptions. The 3-5 days also apply to food with a farther expiration date once opened: if your milk has expiration date 2 weeks in the future, it only applies if you keep the carton sealed. Once you open it for the first time, the 3-5 day "clock" is activated.

Food which is not spoiled by disease-causing organisms is not of much interest to the food safety regulators, so they don't issue rules for its safety. You just keep it around until the point you don't feel like eating it anymore.

Food spoiled by disease-causing organisms include:

  • Every ingredient or prepared dish you have bought from a refrigerated aisle in the supermarket
  • Everything you have cooked
  • Everything you have taken home from a restaurant
  • Every preserved food after you have opened the seal (e.g. an opened glass of marmalade).

Food not spoiled by disease-causing organisms is rarely ready to eat food, although there are some exceptions like bread. It mostly includes ingredients like flour or oil. It includes everything that a supermarket sells unrefrigerated: bread, butter, fruit, unopened canned food.

To take your list as example: Bread, peanut butter and butter are shelf stable at room temperature and can be eaten as long as you don't find them yucky in some way. Ham, chicken nuggets and fish filet all need to be refrigerated within 2 hours of buying and kept that way until eaten. Sausage is not a single category, there are preserved sausages which can be kept outside for a long time, and non-preserved ones which need refrigeration.

See also our canonical question on storing food. There is also a very useful resource on the Internet, StillTasty, which spells it out for practically every food out there. Of course, it's a searchable database, not just a simple table. The reason I don't think it's a direct answer to your question is that they don't bother to list room temperature storage times for most foods, only for the ones which don't carry a disease risk (and thus can actually be stored at room temperature).

  • Green bread doesn't cause disease? Good to know! – BaffledCook Jul 30 '14 at 10:25
  • 1
    @BaffledCook there are exceptions, I didn't have the time to go into everything. Shelf stable food is the food you can throw out when your senses tell you there is a problem with it. With bread, the problem in most climates is that it turns too hard to eat. Mould is an exception which can turn the bread toxic, but I assume that people will throw out mouldy bread too. I was trying to make the contrast with foods which are typical targets of bacteria, these get dangerous within a couple of hours, long before you can sense that something is amiss. – rumtscho Jul 30 '14 at 10:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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