It’s a hard decision to make. If you eat it and die, you’ll be really sorry. If you eat it and get horribly sick, you’ll be just as sorry—until you start to feel better, when you’ll finally say, “At least this experience has taught me a lesson, and I’ll never do that again.”
So I placed the safely (?) unopened string cheese in the refrigerator and sat around for five days thinking about it. That didn’t help. So I went to the manufacturer’s website, but they didn’t give a phone number and the email form asked too many personal questions.
So I turned to the world’s greatest string cheese expert, Google.
At Answers.yahoo.com, questioner JuJuBee left her string cheese “under the [car] seat in a sealed package for the last two days” and someone named Brynn’s suggestion, “I wouldn’t eat it,” was voted the best answer. It was also the only answer.
I didn’t want to throw away good food based on one opinion, so I clicked over to Answers.com (apparently unrelated to Answers.yahoo.com), where the single answer by SuzziQ was much more palatable:
“String cheese is individually packaged in a clean environment, is a cultured food, and is low moisture. It can be safely left out of the refrigerator for hours.” She added that it would be fine in a backpack all day, “so long as the backpack is not left lying on the blacktop in the summer sun for an hour.”
SuzziQ, like Brynn, was just one person, so I couldn’t trust her completely. But at Chowhound.chow.com, all 15 respondents to a question about leaving Monterey Jack and cheddar out all night echoed ballulah’s answer: “It’s safe, you’ll be fine.”
Thew (so sure of being right that (s)he felt no need to capitalize or punctuate) replied, “the french never refrigerate their cheese,” and neither did the commenters on this food site.
“I come from a long line of ‘cheese people,’“ stated romansperson. “…My grandfather would have heartily disapproved of refrigerating cheddar—it detracts from the taste and texture of the cheese.”
Chowhound Smartie leaves butter unrefrigerated on a dish, even in Florida. Whitemist blames Health Department over-reaction on the need to control restaurants’ “handling and serving of larger quantities to a whole lot more people than you or I would. I prefer my cheeses unrefrigerated.”
These were people who thought about food, understood food, left food out overnight and never got sick. I unwrapped my string cheese and took a small bite. And then another. I didn’t keel over instantly.
While swallowing my third bite, I visited the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education site, confident that their smiling, hair-in-rollers expert Mrs. Cookwell would approve. Until I read her blog.
Yikes! She didn’t approve of anything:
- Cottage cheese left out for three hours: “When perishable foods like cottage cheese are left at room temperature for longer than 2 hours bacteria can develop that cause foodborne illness.”
- Butter at room temperature: “…it will develop a rancid taste.”
- Cold pizza left out of the fridge: “Absolutely not safe to eat…especially if it has been left at room temperature for more than an hour…”
- String cheese left out overnight: “No, do not eat the string cheese…it has been left at room temperature for more than two hour [sic] so it may not be safe to eat.”
Oh, no, why did I trust those snooty foodies, so arrogant they think they can make their own safety rules? I ran to the refrigerator and threw out the cheese packet I’d bitten into and the two others that came with it. I quickly dipped a spoon into my overpriced, 100% raw, organic, Active 16+ (whatever that means) jar of Manuka honey and took another dose every couple of hours.
It’s the next day now and I’m fine. I think. Mrs. Cookwell did warn that food poisoning can show up more than a week after consuming tainted food, even though it’s unlikely. Then again, she’s from a different country, where they may have region-specific necessities for such rules. And she did leave the “s” off of “hours” in her string cheese reply. Other aspects of her string cheese beliefs could be wrong, too.
I may never have been at risk, but I have learned my lesson…about string cheese. I still don’t know what to do about the raw, shelled walnuts with a ”best by” date of two months ago, especially after reading on Answers.com, “…it’s easy to be fooled as rancid walnuts in a sealed bag can look just as good as fresh ones.”