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In three days, I will be picking up two fully-prepared chicken dinners - with potatoes, cole slaw, and a pre-packaged dessert - from work to home for my wife and I. I've done this before and it came out fairly well.

The problem is, I know for a fact that I will have to keep these dinners, which are cooked on-site shortly before pickup, in my office from 1pm to 5pm, and take them home on the bus, which could on a bad day mean that I won't be home with them until 6pm - a full 5 hours of sitting out at room temperature (or outdoor temperature, whatever that might wind up being in springtime).

I know that we can make these meals warm again in the oven or microwave, and that the Styrofoam container they'll be in will help too, but are they safe to eat after sitting out for such a long time? And is there any superior way to transport them to eliminate spoilage?

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Refrigeration! They should be cooled to refrigeration temperature as soon as possible after pick up. You can do this in a cooler with ice, if you don't have a refrigerator. A portable cooler will allow you to take the dinners home on the bus.

  • I thought that immediate refrigeration of cooked food was a bad idea? – Zibbobz Apr 6 '15 at 15:38
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    @Zibbobz On the contrary. Chilling it immediately slows the growth of any bacteria in the food. – Johanna Apr 6 '15 at 15:40
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    @Zibbobz it is a bad idea for other things in the refrigerator. For example, placing a hot pot of soup in a small refrigerator raises the temperature for everything else. With your dinners, by the time you refrigerate, other items should be fine. – moscafj Apr 6 '15 at 15:40
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    If it's steaming hot, you might want to crack the containers open and let them cool from evaporation before refrigerating -- it'll help prevent condensation on the top of the container which drips back into the food. – Joe Apr 6 '15 at 19:41
  • To clarify: it's a bad idea for other things in the refrigerator if what you're putting in is large compared to the refrigerator. In most everyday cases it's completely fine. See also cooking.stackexchange.com/q/8919/1672 and cooking.stackexchange.com/q/30487/1672 – Cascabel Apr 6 '15 at 22:31
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I am frequently experimenting with pushing the limit of product spoilage. If the room temperature is 22C, and the dessert is not a specially capricious substance (e.g. whipped cream of very good quality), it will be completely intact. If the room temperature is like 27C, it should still be fine, but you may notice a flavor change after reheating (then again, cooling down and reheating changes flavor often, for whatever reason). Closed containers are important.

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    Welcome to the site! While I personally might agree with you, we have a policy here to stick to official guidelines like the ones issued ny the US FDA or similar. Food safety is not an exact science, but also the risks of foodborne illnesses are way more real than most of us think. Please note that what might work for you (or what your imune system may be able to handle without discomfort) might be fatal in someone with a weaker imune system. – Stephie Apr 8 '15 at 6:54

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