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How Long Can French Fries Sit Out?

Norah Clark
French fries sitting out on a counter

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, Editor of Boyd Hampers! Norah is a food writer with over a decade of experience in hospitality as a pastry chef, sous chef, and barista; former chef at the Savoy Hotel, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Plaza Hotel.

If you have left French fries sitting for too long on the counter at room temperature, they should be discarded after two hours. This is especially true if they are in a sealed container as temperature and humidity will accelerate bacterial growth.

So, how should French fries be stored ideally? I'll guide you through the dos and don'ts of leftover French fry storage, ensuring you can enjoy your leftoever fries without risking your health.

What Can Affect The Shelf Life of French Fries

How long French fries can sit on the counter? There are three main factors at play: temperature, humidity, and storage methods.

Temperature

Considering the room's temperature is vital. Uneaten fries left out in a warm environment will fall victim to bacteria growth. What is the "Danger Zone" temperature according to the USDA? It's a wide range of between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

You'll want to avoid leaving your fries in this risk zone.

Humidity

Humidity leads to food deterioration. To maximize the life of your leftover fries, make sure you're storing them in a low-humidity area.

Storage Methods

There are optimal ways to store your fries for maximum freshness. Reaching for any old container won't be enough. Ideally, you'll want to use an airtight container to reduce exposure to outside bacteria.

Your fridge is ideal for short-term storage, provided your fries are cooled before placing them inside.

Remember, it's not only important to store your fries correctly but also to handle them with clean hands, thus reducing the likelihood of introducing additional bacteria.

You will be surprised at how these factors will affect your fries' longevity. These aren't just arbitrary details but key components to maximizing and extending the life of your tasty leftovers.

Whether testing out alternative storage methods or adjusting your fridge's humidity settings, every measure will help to sustain the quality of your fries.

The Ideal Storage Conditions For Leftover French Fries

The Fridge

Initially, it might seem as if the perfect solution to preserving those leftover fries is to simply stash them in the fridge.

Let's consider your fridge's environment for a moment. It's usually in the range of 35 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit--just above the freezing point.

Instead of keeping them crisp and golden, the cold yet humid environment tends to turn leftover fries soggy and colorless.

So, it's important to keep the leftover fries cool at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Airtight Containers vs. Open Storage

Storing fries in an airtight container seems logical. Yet it's not always the recommended method. Humidity has a say here. Trapped inside an airtight container, the evaporated moisture from fries has nowhere to escape, which may result in your fries turning into a mushy, unappetizing mess.

So, putting the fries in an open or covered lightly with clingfilm container in the fridge is an option as the dehydrating cold air helps to remove surface moisture, potentially preserving the crispiness.

How Long Can French Fries Sit Out at Room Temperature?

If you can't consume your French fries immediately after cooking, they should not be allowed to sit out for more than two hours.

As soon as the fries cool down, they should be consumed or stored effectively. 

If fries sit out for more than two hours, they shouldn't be eaten later. There is a high degree of foodborne illness.

The fries will typically start to get soggy and lose their iconic crunch, not to mention the risk bacterial growth.

The Risks of Leaving French Fries Out For Too Long

 

When fries sit out for too long, they become a breeding ground for two types of bacteria:

  • Staphylococcus aureus, which can produce a toxin that is not destroyed by high cooking temperatures.
  • Bacillus cereus, bacteria that can survive even in the starchy environment of the fries.

ExCOLIbacter, a generic term for E.coli, is another harmful bacteria that might find its way into your body.

Not following the storage temperatures and methods may lead to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and fever.

Even beyond these health risks, the longer the fries sit out, the worse they taste and their texture is less than desirable. 

Storing and Reheating Leftover French Fries

As discussed, to retain the freshness and taste of a well-prepared batch of French fries, proper storing procedures are important. 

First off, cool the fries at room temperature for less than two hours before storage. This prevents the hot fries from raising the fridge's temperature and climbing into that notorious Danger Zone, inadvertently promoting bacteria growth.

Once cooled, store in an airtight container if the humidity in your fridge is low. Store in a lidless container and cover lightly with cling film if the humidity is higher. Opt for shallow containers to promote more even cooling and discourage bacteria growth.

Freezing is a valid option for longer preservation. Use heavy-duty freezer bags, removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.

On to reheating, your convection oven or air fryer is your best friend. When reheating, high and quick heat is key for retaining the fries' original texture.

Pop them into an oven or air fryer set to around 400°F for a few minutes.

Constantly monitor them, as the difference between crisp and burnt can be a matter of seconds.

Using a microwave isn't recommended for reheating fries, as it often results in a disappointing taste and texture. 

Only have a microwave? Spread the fries in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate, microwave in 30-second intervals, checking for desired crispness between each.

By implementing these steps, you're protecting yourself from possible foodborne illnesses while enjoying your reheated leftover French fries.

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I store leftover French fries?

Store the leftover French fries in either an airtight or an open container after cooling them to room temperature, depending on the fridge's humidity level. 

What is the best way to reheat leftover French fries?

Instead of a microwave, use a convection oven or an air fryer to reheat your leftover fries. Reheat at high heat to maintain their original texture.

Why should I avoid reheating French fries in the microwave?

Reheating fries in the microwave leaves them soggy. For better results and a crispier texture, use a convection oven or air fryer.

Why is it important to cool French fries before storage?

Cooling the fries before storage avoids heating the temperature in the fridge to the "Danger Zone." 

Can French fries be frozen for longer preservation?

Yes, freezing is a good method for longer preservation of French fries. Make sure to store them in an airtight container.

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