How Long Can Pizza Sit Out?

Pizzas seem small until you start eating them. You could fill up pretty quick or get distracted by something and woops – you left the pizza out. Pizza is one of those food items that people don’t like to throw away because in most cases, it’s really good!

But what should you do when you leave the pizza out? How long before you consider throwing it away? What’s the worst that could happen if you leave it out for a while?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you have about two hours to put your pizza away or eat it. This does depend on the room temperature. 

Why only two hours for leaving a pizza out?

First, we are going to assume you mean a baked pizza. A fully baked pizza usually has meats, cheese, and sauce, which amounts to vegetables. Unfortunately, bacteria can build up on all of these items within a couple of hours. Also note that the USDA tends to take a fairly cautious approach.

Does the cardboard box help keep it safe?

The answer is no, not really. If anything, the cardboard pizza box helps retain heat which is great for when you are heating it. The same effect goes poorly when you don’t put it away. More heat means the potential for more foodborne illness bearing bacteria. 

What if the pizza I left out smells ok?

In terms of risking getting sick, the smell test doesn’t really work. You can still have plenty of food borne bacteria without a trace of a scent.

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To be fair, pizza also smells pretty good heated up or not. The smell of the pizza will probably distract you from possible negative whiffs.

Does reheating pizza left out make it safer?

We hate to disappoint you, but nuking your pizza in the microwave or throwing it in the oven might not make it safer. After being left out, the pizza can develop bacteria that become resistant to heat. Once this bacteria gets into your stomach, you could get food poisoning.

So no, you cannot necessarily save the ooey, gooey, cheesy and meaty pizza just be heating it back up. 

What should I do about leaving a pizza out for a couple hours?

You have some choices. Put the pizza in the fridge in a container right after you are done eating it to avoid this situation. You could also throw it away to avoid the potential for food borne illness.

Is cheese pizza different for being left out of the fridge?

Sorry to disappoint, but the answer is still no. Cheese is among culprits that will quickly develop bacteria. So even if your pizza has no meat, there’s still a good chance of building up some bad bacteria that will make you ill.

What could be so bad about leaving pizza out?

There are several bacterias, most notably listeria, clostridium, and staph. Staph bacteria is found nearly everywhere and there is no effective way of a person to detect it, including smell.

All three bacteria types could lead to vomiting and diarrhea for at least a day. Not something most people look forward to!

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If you don’t know how long pizza has been left out – or if you’ve had a full night to sleep on it, we suggest you throw it away. Pizza is a great food, but it’s not worth risking food borne illness. Refrigerate it whenever possible so you have much less risk of having your stomach grumble in foul ways.

Also, pizza has a holding temperature that helps determine how high of heat it needs to stay good.