How Long Can A Sandwich Sit Out Unrefrigerated?


Cartoon Paper Bag With a Sandwich and Orange Spilling Out

Making sandwiches ahead of time is something we all consider doing at one point or another. Knowing how long they can sit out is essential for both freshness and safety sake. So, I did some in-depth research on the matter, and this is what I learned.

Sandwiches can sit out of the refrigerator for up to 4 hours as long as the temperature is under 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s above 90 degrees, then the sandwich is only safe for up to 1 hour. After that, bacteria begins to grow.

And, if in doubt about whether a sandwich is good, discard it.

Please read on as the rest of the article will answer a few common follow-up questions.

How Long Is a Sandwich Good for at Room Temperature?

Most sandwiches are safe to sit out at room temperature for four hours. This includes sandwiches made of cooked foods such as tuna fish, egg salad, and ham salad. It also includes all deli meats and sandwiches made with fruits or vegetables such as bananas or tomatoes and lettuce.

These meats, fruits, and vegetables have moisture in them, and moisture promotes the growth of bacteria. The more moisture in a sandwich, the faster the bacteria will grow. Do not take any chances if the sandwich has been left out for longer than four hours. If it looks or smells bad, throw it out.

The 2 Hour/4 Hour Rule

A helpful storage strategy to understand is something called the 2 hour/4 hour rule. This means that if a sandwich has been left out for 2 hours or less, it can be refrigerated and saved for later. Once removed again from refrigeration is can stay out another 2 hours. The total safe time without refrigeration is 4 hours, whether continuous or not. After 4 hours of total sitting out time, throw out the sandwich.

Can Sandwiches Left Out Really Make You Ill?

Sandwiches can definitely make someone ill. Thousands of people in the United States get sick every year due to food-borne illnesses. These illnesses can be anywhere from an upset stomach to more serious problems such as kidney failure and even death.

Dairy products high in moisture content, deli meats, and fish products all have a fast bacteria growth that can cause food poison. Whenever possible, keep cold foods cold to be safe. Anything over 40 degrees Fahrenheit is considered the “danger zone.”

How Do You Properly Store Sandwiches?

There are many ways people think their sandwiches are stored properly or safely, but they are often not as safe as one might believe.

The way to properly store a sandwich is to wrap it either in plastic wrap or freezer/parchment paper as they will not allow for much moisture.

Just click the link to see my favorite plastic wrap on Amazon.

If you store a sandwich in an airtight container or a Ziploc bag, it will remain fresh for a time, but it also collects moisture through condensation. This will cause the sandwich to be soggy if stored for too long.

If stored in the refrigerator, they can remain good for 1-2 days. If stored outside of the fridge, at room temperature, they will no longer be safe for up to 4 hours, depending on the temperature in the room.

For hot sandwiches, it is best to wrap them in aluminum foil to keep them warm. They can also be reheated in the foil in the oven if necessary.

How Long Can a Sandwich With Cheese Stay Out of the Refrigerator?

Slightly soft or hard cheese on a sandwich can stay good for up to six hours. Cheeses like Cheddar, Asiago, and Muenster can be left out for a lot longer since they have very little moisture in them. And little moisture means slower bacterial growth.

How Long Can a Sandwich With Mayonnaise Stay Out of the Refrigerator?

A sandwich with mayonnaise can stay out of the refrigerator and remain good for up to 4 hours. And it’s not usually the mayonnaise that goes bad first. It is much more likely that other ingredients, like meat or veggies, will become rancid first.

In fact, mayo on a sandwich does not change how long it can remain safe to eat out of the refrigerator. Yes, mayonnaise may sour if left out for too long, but it is not as dangerous as people think. It’s been thought that if left out for a few hours, it will cause food poisoning. That is not true. It’s just a myth.

Will a Sandwich Go Bad Overnight if Left Out?

Most sandwiches will go bad if left out overnight, but there are a few exceptions:

  • Canned meat such as potted meat will stay good but make for a soggy sandwich the next day.
  • Any kind of nut butter, such as almond or peanut butter sandwiches, are usually completely safe staying out all night long.
  • Jams and jellies can be added to nut butter sandwiches and will almost always be good to eat the next day.
  • Bean based sandwich fillings such as hummus will also usually remain safe to eat if left out.

There are some meats that can be left out for at least 6 hours to overnight. Meats like pepperoni and salami contain nitrites, which slow the growth of bacteria and make it safe for them to be left out at room temperature overnight.

Bottom Line

The central theme of this article is that it’s best to leave sandwiches out as little as possible. The best way to store them is to make them and immediately lock them away in plastic wrap or parchment and keep them in the fridge until the last minute. Then, transfer them to a container (preferably a cooler) and only take them out just before consuming.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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