At the large superstore, Real Canadian Superstore, closest to me, many of the perishables such as broccoli, carrots, etc. are stored just in bins without refrigeration. It is also the same for many stores of course, but I have chosen this store as one I know for sure follows these practices.

I imagine the temperature for storage of these vegetables is well within the "danger zone" of 4-60 degrees C.

Why is it that if I cook broccoli and leave it out for > 2 hours it is deemed unsafe to eat, but if I buy broccoli, carrots, etc. that have been sitting at the supermarket for > 2 hours it is OK to eat? Or is this not the stance of the FDA?

I often eat vegetables raw after buying them this way. Is this poor practice unless it has been stored safely the entire time until it makes its way to my refrigerator?


1 Answer 1


Oh, you haven’t read the food safety guidelines correctly. Not all foods are susceptible to quick bacterial or fungal growth and therefore need refrigeration to get them out of the danger zone. The fresh fruit and vegetables at the store are perfectly shelf stable for some time.

The reason why the cooked vegetables fall into “the 2-hour-max-rule” is that generally all cooked food are considered perishable. Just think of the lukewarm cooked food as a suitable breeding ground for whatever nasties happened to float in the air. The intact plant parts (root, fruit,...) are not.

A freshly harvested plant part is still alive to a degree, at least on a cellular level. Roots are able to regrow into plants if planted and fruit continue their ripening process. Even flowers (e.g. your broccoli) are, just think of them as cut flowers that open over days in a vase. The dying process leads to wilting, drying out or getting mushy - and the vegetable being unfit for consumption. The speed of this depends on the plant and the storage condition. If you choose to refrigerate your raw vegetables once you bring them home, you can slow it down: Just think of salad at room temperature vs. in the fridge.

When you cook the vegetables, you destroy cells and stop the cell metabolism - and make them suitable for bacterial growth. It’s also important to distinguish between safe and spoilt: it’s the possibility of bacterial or fungal growth that determines safety and the actual growth of them that determines spoilage.

So you can safely eat your raw broccoli, provided you wash it first and it’s in otherwise good condition, e.g. not mushy and mold-free.

1 Note that not all vegetables benefit from refrigeration.

  • @AdamThompson You might want to ask a separate questions if you want more details on what cooking actually does to food that makes it more perishable; that's a bit different of a question from simply what the rules for fresh vegetables are.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 5:25
  • @Cascabel if the updated answer is sufficient for the asker, all is well. Otherwise I support your suggestion of asking separate questions on different levels.
    – Stephie
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 5:38
  • Thanks @Stephie, that makes sense. Based on your answer, I imagine as well it has to do with the antibacterial effects of the plant being living being destroyed as well. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 16:34
  • @AdamThompson I guess so. Details would be beyond the scope of this site and way beyond my personal knowledge. Maybe some microbiologist over at Biology SE could help, if you truly need details.
    – Stephie
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 16:41
  • I think some of the basics would be okay here, if you do want to ask a question. The biggest reasons aren't anything fancy.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 16:52

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