Question: How long can salad sit out before it becomes unsafe to eat?
Answer: Salads can be safely left out at room temperature for about two hours — or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This applies both to salads made with leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and kale and to salads made with cooked foods, such as potato salad, pasta salad, egg salad and chicken salad.
In the case of green salads, all fresh fruits and vegetables should be refrigerated within two hours of being cut up or peeled, as the agricultural experts at University of California, Davis point out. Harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly in cut produce, including salad greens, that have been left out at room temperature for extended periods.
When it comes to potato salad, pasta salad, chicken salad and other salads made with cooked foods, the United States Department of Agriculture notes that it’s dangerous to eat any cooked food that has been allowed to sit out at room temperature for two hours or longer (or 1 hour above 90° F). The reason is that bacteria grow rapidly when cooked foods are kept at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F.
If you’re packing a salad for lunch and don’t expect to be eating it within two hours of leaving home, be sure to pack ice or a frozen gel pack along with the salad to keep it colder (and safer) longer.
At home, try to refrigerate any leftover salad as soon as possible. And keep a close eye on the time if you’re serving salad outdoors on a hot day.