Why can chicken stock only last for 2-3 days in the refrigerator? If it’s refrigerated wouldn’t it be good for 4 or 5 days? I made some homemade chicken stock on Saturday and never got around to using it for soup. Is it really no longer good?
Boiled in Boston
I spent quite a bit of time in the airport this past week (and I’ll be spending more this weekend and trust me there is a segue here). Foodsafety.gov is currently engaged in a massive public service campaign to educate the public on proper food safety precautions. I have a lot of people ask me questions like yours, “Well I know what the guidelines are, but can I?”
I cannot, in good conscience recommend anything but the official guidelines for food safety.
Because food poisoning can have serious and occasionally fatal consequences and I’m not willing to dole out advice that could harm someone’s family. I couldn’t live with that on my conscience.
You may think that the cooking process of making chicken stock would kill all the bacteria and that the food would then be safe for an extended period of time. If your home were a clean room in a lab, that could potentially be true. However your home is not a clean room, this is especially true if you have children and / or pets. Kids don’t wash their hands, pets walk in litter boxes and then on counters or shake and their slobber goes flying.
Forced air heat and air conditioning pipe dust from one end of the home to another, this dust lands on uncovered food, carrying with it whatever spores or dander it came into contact with.
Additionally, some forms of bacteria are encapsulated by a protective protein coating and can survive high temperatures in a sort of self-made survival pod. Once the temperature drops below the temperature they can’t tolerate they start dividing and by dividing, I mean multiplying.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Just because your chicken stock is relatively low in bacteria immediately after it is cooked, there are many points at which new bacteria could be introduced to your stock and wet foods are a great growth medium. If you choose to make the personal choice –and I still would not recommend this– to ignore food safety guidelines, know that reheating the stock to 150°F for one minute will kill active bacteria and boiling for ten minutes will break down the dangerous botulism toxin.
Now what you absolutely must remember is this:
Heating food to 150°F is not the same as heating it to a palatable temperature.
Use a thermometer to ensure your food is being heated to the proper temperature.
Know that refrigeration only slows bacterial growth, it does not eliminate it.
Know that pushing the guidelines increases your risk even though I can’t tell you by how much due to the incredible number of variables involved.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.