Everybody has done it at some point. It happened to us. We went shopping and then forgot that we needed to make a stop along the way. By the time we got home and got the littles out of the car, I’d forgotten about the groceries in the back!
If you forget your groceries in the car, what temperature will they still be okay? If you are stuck in traffic on the way home and can’t help the time passing, how will your groceries fare?
How long can groceries stay in the car? The majority of your groceries (excluding frozen food) would be fine in the car if the temperature is below 40 degrees. Some groceries could become at risk after 1 hour in the car. The transportation of groceries should not exceed 2 hours between car temperatures of 40-90 degrees (1 hour if the weather is >90 degrees).
1 How to Know if Your Groceries are Safe After Being Left in the Car
1.1 Tip #1: Smell it
1.2 Tip #2: Observe It
2 What Happens if You Leave Groceries in a Car Overnight?
3 Can You Leave Groceries in a Cold Car?
4 What Happens if You Leave Groceries in a Hot Car?
5 How Can You Keep Your Groceries Safe?
5.1 Tips-n-Tricks #1: Use Insulated Bags
5.2 Tips-n-Tricks #2: Errands First, Shop Last
5.3 Tips-n-Tricks #3: Pick Cold Items Last
5.4 Tips-n-Tricks #4: Use a Cooler
How to Know if Your Groceries are Safe After Being Left in the Car
In the event that you forget to take your groceries out of the car and later remember to bring them in, are they safe to eat? Perhaps.
Boxed and canned goods will be fine. Weather conditions can impact whether or not your refrigerated items are okay. The same is true for frozen foods. When and what temperature your groceries were at will determine if they are still edible.
Here are a few tips-n-tricks to determine if your food is still safe to consume.
Tip #1: Smell it
Your nose is your best guide. It is incredible how our noses can point out many good or bad things. It’s easier to smell smoke than to see flames. Don’t try something if your nose tells you it’s off.
Gently waft the item under your nose to get a whiff of it. If the item smells off in any way, it’s best to discard it. Never put an item directly under your nose to inhale; you don’t want a nostril full of bacteria!
Tip #2: Observe It
Open the item in question and observe its overall appearance. You know how it should look. Check to see if the coloring or texture is typical or if it appears “off.” You probably shouldn’t try anything that looks funny, misshapen, lumpy, or wrong. There’s no point in risking food poisoning later.
What Happens if You Leave Groceries in a Car Overnight?
If you’ve accidentally left groceries in the car overnight, the temperature would need to be just right. If you have canned items, cold items, and frozen items together, you will have different temperatures to contend with.
Some of your groceries may go bad if your groceries are left in your car overnight. The temperature for your frozen items needs to be one temperature, while the temperature for your cold items needs to be another. Depending on the temperature, the frozen items may be melted, but the cold items might be acceptable.
The odds are that your groceries won’t be in good shape if you leave them out overnight. Regardless of the temperature, some of the items will likely inevitably be spoiled.
Can You Leave Groceries in a Cold Car?
Leaving your groceries in the car while it is cold is fine for short periods. Be aware that frigid temperatures can cause fruit or vegetables to freeze or discolor.
If it’s cold outside but not below freezing, you can keep your chilled food in your car overnight. The temperature should be around zero degrees for frozen food to remain edible. Both will likely not survive at these temperatures in your vehicle.
When it’s below 0 degrees, liquid beverages will be damaged if it gets too cold. You run the risk of your cans bursting. Ice would begin to form on softer cold items like cheese. Items contained in jars or bottles could potentially freeze and burst.
Around 40 degrees is perfectly fine for regular refrigerated perishables. A situation like that would be similar to being in a refrigerator. If so, the frozen food would thaw. Defrosting these items would not necessarily cause them to go bad, but they would need to be cooked immediately rather than refrozen.
Meat that has previously been frozen should not be refrozen. Ice cream should also be handled with caution. You might be able to refreeze it, but be careful not to spill it.
What Happens if You Leave Groceries in a Hot Car?
The worst thing you can do is leave your groceries in a hot car. This is a critical area where a lot of things could go wrong. Fresh food does not mix well with hot temperatures.
In hotter temperatures, you have a concise window to store your perishable items safely. If the temperature rises above 40 degrees, your refrigerated items will begin to grow unhealthy bacteria.
Certain items can be at risk within an hour. You have only two hours to put those groceries in the refrigerator. The most you have is one hour if it’s 90 degrees or hotter. You can grow harmful bacteria on your fresh food in just 20 minutes after removal from a cooler.
A car filled with groceries is no place for improvisation. The impact on boxed or canned items will be minimal. Fresh food and frozen food could potentially be ruined by being exposed to heat for too long.
How Can You Keep Your Groceries Safe?
We know that you shouldn’t keep groceries in your car for more than 2 hours, regardless of the temperature. A lot of your groceries will get ruined by leaving them in your car overnight.
However, there are steps you can take to make sure you get your groceries home safely if you find yourself in traffic or unable to get home immediately. It’s helpful to place a laundry basket in the back of the car, this makes it easier to quickly unload groceries in one trip.
Tips-n-Tricks #1: Use Insulated Bags
In comparison to the danger of having to throw away spoiled food, these are an affordable choice. You will be able to protect your refrigerated and cold items for a more extended period if you use these bags.
As a bonus, the insulated bags make it easier to separate groceries to prevent cross-contamination. For example, place all of the produce in one bag, all the meat in another, all the dairy in yet another.
Tips-n-Tricks #2: Errands First, Grocery Shopping Last
Plan to do grocery shopping last if you have a lot of errands to run. The longer groceries remain in the car, the higher the chance they’ll spoil, wasting money and your valuable time in the process.
Tips-n-Tricks #3: Pick Cold Items Last
The same logic applies. The longer the groceries are out of the cooler, the higher the chance for bacteria to flourish. Start at the back of the store and work your way to the front, choosing fresh and frozen foods last.
Tips-n-Tricks #4: Use a Cooler
We lived in a relatively rural area, and the closest grocery store was nearly two hours away. In the summertime, purchasing frozen food wasn’t an option, and in the wintertime, getting fruits and veggies home in decent shape was nearly impossible.
If leaving groceries in the car for long periods of time is unavoidable, consider purchasing a high-quality cooler to leave in the car for grocery shopping trips to ensure your cold and frozen food arrives home safely.
A cooler (without ice) will also help insulate tender vegetables and fruits from excessively frigid temperatures during the winter months. Otherwise, your nice ripe bananas may turn BLACK on the way home, as ours did!
By paying attention to when you get your groceries and how much time you have to get them home, you can keep your health safe and avoid a terrible case of food poisoning. You’ll be glad you did.