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Keeping a Roast Chicken Out of the USDA's "Danger Zone"

I roasted a chicken in an enamel roasting pan (with lid), turned off the oven, and left it in the oven overnight. I believe that the chicken will have already begun to grow harmful bacteria. My husband believes that the chicken will still be safe to eat. Please settle this silly argument.

Oh, it's always something with you kids! Since he's so sure, why not just let your husband eat it and find out? Teasing. Teasing. We are teasing! The US Department of Agriculture would have our collective heads if we suggested that you might eat it. The USDA considers the temperature range between 40F and 140F (5C and 60C) to be the "Danger Zone," in which bacteria grow most rapidly.

The USDA will still allow such frivolous activities as picnicking if you promise that your foods will not be in the "Danger Zone" for more than two hours. The same goes for leftovers at Thanksgiving. No matter how many of you are sitting around groaning with the tops of your trousers unbuttoned, someone is going to have to haul his or her carcass off the couch to get the leftovers into the refrigerator before two hours are up. (And you know who that someone is going to be.)

We're guessing that your perfectly roasted chicken, sealed in your beautiful enamel roasting pan (with lid) spent way more time than 2 hours in the "Danger Zone."

We occasionally think the USDA errs on the side of caution, believing that the country should regularly dispose of millions of pounds of edible food rather than take any risk at all with the foods we eat at picnics and Thanksgiving. At the very least, certain foods can stay in the "Danger Zone" longer than others that are more susceptible to contamination. But the USDA will not tell you which ones, believing, apparently, that in a moment of wild abandon, you will leave out the leftover gravy and quick-like-a-bunny slip the dinner rolls into the refrigerator in their place.

We are of the opinion that mankind collectively survived for a hundred thousand years or so before refrigeration caught on in the 1950s, and surely sometime in that period, someone served a chicken that had been left in the oven overnight and the eaters lived to tell about it. In the case of a chicken, which is a lovely breeding ground from the perspective of wicked bacteria, it would not be wise to eat it. But, and we're not taking sides, theoretically your husband could be right. Take him out to dinner to celebrate the possibility that he could be right. It will mean a great deal to him.

By the way, the part about the lid really isn't that important.


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