On a few occasions, I have let groceries stay in the car for longer than necessary. I often do multiple errands at once. If grocery shopping is the first thing on my to-do list, I’ll have completely forgotten about it by the time I get home.
I know many of us are guilty of this. But when unpacking your groceries, do you often wonder if you let the groceries stay in the car for too long and if they are still safe to eat?
Most of your groceries can stay in the car for a maximum of two hours, as long as the temperatures are between 40 to 90 degrees. However, on a hot day with temperatures above 90 degrees, don’t let your groceries sit in the car for longer than an hour.
Remember that you have less time with frozen and refrigerated foods, as bacteria will likely thrive faster. In the article below, we will explain how long you can leave your groceries in the car and the steps to take if this happens.
How Long Do You Have Before Groceries Start Spoiling?
Several factors will affect the time you have before your groceries can start spoiling. For instance, on a hot day, you have about an hour. With this in mind, try as much as possible to reduce the time between when you shop and when you store your groceries in the fridge and pantry.
Also, be methodical when you’re moving between isles in the supermarket. Pick cold items such as dairy and meat last. Reducing the time they will be in the trolley helps preserve them.
How Long Can Frozen Groceries Stay in the Car?
Your frozen groceries can stay in the car for about an hour if the temperatures range between 32 to 40 degrees. If the temperatures are higher than that, we strongly advise against allowing your frozen groceries to stay longer than 30 minutes.
If you live in a hot or warm region, or it’s summer, err on the side of caution and don’t let your groceries sit in the car for longer than necessary. Frozen food will melt when exposed to heat or sunrays. And if it becomes warm, foodborne bacteria start growing. If your frozen food has been in the car for longer and you suspect it’s unsafe to eat, throw it away.
Left Meat in the Car for Three Hours
There’s that sinking feeling we all get when we realize that our meat has been sitting in the car for three hours. According to the Department of Agriculture, meat shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours. That timeline reduces to an hour if the temperatures are about 90 degrees.
Even if the day is cool, if you have parked under direct sunlight, your car’s internal temperature will go up, making your meat unsafe to eat. The best thing to do is to throw away that meat if it has been out for three hours.
Even if the meat smells and looks okay, it’s not safe to cook because of bacteria. I understand that the meat may be expensive, or you’re attached to it and want to enjoy it. But you risk food poisoning if you decide to eat it.
What Happens if You Leave Your Groceries in the Car Overnight?
If you leave your groceries in the car overnight, chances are that most of them won’t be safe for consumption by morning. Frozen items will probably have melted, so they won’t be as fresh or enjoyable to eat. Perishable items like meat and milk will likely go bad. In general, most of your groceries will be in bad shape.
What Temperatures Are Safe to Leave Groceries in the Car?
Temperature matters a lot when it comes to your groceries. Bacteria thrive in warm temperatures, and that’s why we refrigerate most of our food. According to the FDA, store perishable foods like meat and dairy at 40 degrees and below. That means leaving the grocery store and going directly home to put these items in the fridge.
Items like vegetables, fruits, cereals, and vegetables aren’t delicate, meaning they will survive at 70 degrees. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you leave them in the car the whole day as you risk spoilage. Bring them into the house as soon as you get there.
Can You Leave Groceries in a Cold Car?
Leaving your groceries in a cold car is fine, but only for a short period. Note that frigid temperatures can freeze or discolor your fruits and vegetables. If it’s cold outside (not below freezing), most of your groceries will survive. However, frozen food won’t survive unless the temperature in your car is at zero degrees, which is highly unlikely.
If the temperature is at 40 degrees, this is fine for most perishables as this is similar to your average fridge temperature. However, frozen food will thaw. It might not go bad, but it’s better to cook than put it in the freezer.
How Can You Keep Your Groceries Safe?
By now, we know we shouldn’t leave our groceries in the car for more than two hours. However, there are steps you can take to preserve the freshness of your food before you get home. Doing so also helps in case you find yourself stuck in traffic and your trip takes longer. Here they are:
- Use insulated bags as they keep cold items colder for longer
- Run your errands first and finish with grocery shopping
- Pick frozen and cold items last
- If you can’t avoid leaving your groceries in the car for long, carry a cooler for perishable items.
How to Know Your Groceries Are Safe After Leaving Them in the Car
Accidents happen, and you can forget your groceries in the car. If this happens, check whether your groceries are still fresh by smelling and observing them. If an item has an off smell or appearance, throw it away.