What Happens When Steak Left Out Overnight: Risks and Precautions

We’ve all been there – you forget to put that juicy prime ribeye steak back in the fridge and find it sitting on the kitchen counter the next morning.

Steak Left Out Overnight

The question arises: is it safe to eat steak left out overnight by reheating it thoroughly or should you toss it in the bin?

Let’s dive into the factors at play when it comes to leaving cooked and raw steak out overnight.

In this article, I will let you know how long raw flank steak can sit at room temperature and offer other tips for keeping steak safe.

How Long Can Leave Raw Steak At Room Temperature?

The maximum time you should leave your raw steak at room temperature is two hours. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, these are the maximum recommended times after which you start to risk food-borne illness.

How long can you leave cooked steak at room temperature?

If you have cooked your steak, it can be left at room temperature for up to four hours. This is because cooked food has a lower risk of food borne illness than raw food.

Of course, you should still use your best judgment when leaving cooked food out. If the temperature is very high (over 90°F) or the steak is particularly thick, then it might be best to take caution and not leave it out for more than two hours.

Understanding Food Safety When Steak Left Out Overnight

A typical response from a health inspector might be to play it safe and discard the steak. Their reasoning is that during the night, harmful bacteria could have found their way onto the steak, with the lack of refrigeration allowing them to flourish. But, let’s break this down:

  1. Freshly Cooked: You left the steak out immediately after cooking, so there shouldn’t be any bacteria to grow on it unless you have a rather unique kitchen setup. So, the risk of bacterial contamination should be minimal.
  2. Time Factor: Overnight, typically around 8-10 hours, isn’t an extended period for bacteria to multiply, especially if we start with a low level of plausible contamination and consider that steak isn’t prone to rapid bacterial growth like other foods.
  3. Recooking: You plan to recook the steak, which should effectively eliminate the major pathogens of concern.

Safety Guidelines

  • 0 to 2 hours left out: Generally considered safe.
  • 2 to 4 hours: Consume it immediately or discard it.
  • 4+ hours unrefrigerated and unheated: It’s better to play it safe and avoid potential food poisoning.

The Role of Temperature:

Temperature is a critical factor in food safety. The goal is to reheat the steak to a minimum of 165°F (or “piping hot”), ensuring any potential bacteria are killed off.

Cooking Steak Left Out:

  • If you’re concerned, resear the steak at high heat, including the sides, to ensure the surface bacteria are destroyed.
  • For added caution, reheat it to 140°F in a sous vide or a precision grill for 15-30 minutes to minimize the risk, then enjoy without worry.

Variability with Steak:

Steaks, particularly if unaltered (not punctured or tenderized), often have a nearly sterile center, with most bacteria on the surface. This makes them less worrisome compared to foods like burgers, where bacteria could be evenly spread throughout.

In the case of a steak left out after cooking to medium-rare, erring on the side of caution and avoiding it is advisable, as the center remains nearly uncooked. Food safety should always be a top priority.

How to Store Steak at Room Temperature?

If you are storing your flank steak at room temperature, it is essential to use proper food safety guidelines.

The steak should be wrapped tightly in plastic or foil and stored in a cool, dry place.

The maximum time you can keep the flank steak at room temperature is two hours. After two hours, the risk of food borne illness increases, and the steak should be either refrigerated or frozen.

The best way to store a steak is to wrap it tightly in plastic or foil and place it in the refrigerator. If you plan to keep the steak longer, it is best to freeze it.

The steak will remain fresh for up to six months when frozen.

When thawing frozen steak, it is important to thaw it slowly in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. Room temperature thawing can cause bacteria to grow on the meat, leading to food poisoning.

To ensure the safety of your food, always follow these proper storage guidelines.

How to Tell if a Steak is Bad?

It has likely gone bad if the steak has been left out at room temperature for more than two hours. There are a few signs that you can look for to tell if a steak has gone bad:

  • Look for color changes, usually indicative of bruising. 
  • Check for marbling, which is the fat content within the meat. 
  • Smell it- if it smells sour or ‘off’, it’s probably bad. 
  • Feel it- if it’s slimy or sticky, don’t eat it. 
  • Finally, give it a little poke. Again, if it’s too soft or mushy, don’t eat it. If it offers some resistance but springs back quickly, it’s good to go.


In the world of food safety, it’s better to be cautious. When it comes to steak left out overnight, the decision to consume or discard depends on several factors like time, temperature, and your health. Always prioritize safety, but with a little extra care, your steak might not be a total loss.

Remember, it’s better to waste a bit of money than risk your health. Proper storage and adherence to safety guidelines are key to enjoying your meals without any worries.

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