Whether you use canned chili, homemade chili, vegetarian chili or chili con carne, the rules for safely storing it are the same. In most cases, chili should be refrigerated within two hours of serving to keep it safe. Heat the leftovers to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
Chili, and in particular, chili that contains meat, should be handled as you would any other cooked dish. Refrigerate it within two hours of serving. Cut that margin of safety to one hour if the weather is hot and you're outdoors. Both low and high temperatures slow bacterial growth and keep food safe longer. As your chili cools to room temperature, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, which can cause food poisoning. Get it in the fridge as soon as possible, but definitely within that two-hour window.
If you keep chili hot on the stove or in a slow cooker, you can let it sit out for up to six hours. The heat will prevent any bacterial growth. The challenge you'll have is keeping it warm enough to destroy bacteria without drying it out or burning it. For long, slow-cooking, add plenty of liquid in the form of tomato sauce, tomatoes with juice, water or broth. Keep the heat on low and stir it frequently. If the chili seems dry, add more liquid.
When it's time to put away the chili, let it cool for 20 minutes or so before packing it in plastic or glass containers. Seal the chili tightly and store it in the fridge for up to three days. You can keep chili for up to three months by storing it in the freezer. Label the package with the date and store it at 0 F. Set it in the refrigerator overnight to safely thaw it. To reheat chili, heat it on the stovetop or in the microwave until it boils, which will kill any bacteria.
If you accidentally left chili out overnight or for several hours, it might be tempting to refrigerate it and serve it again, but the chance of getting a food-borne illness is simply not worth the risk. Toss out any chili that sat out longer than two hours. If the chili has a strange odor or flavor, even if it didn't sit out, throw it away.
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Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."