How Long Can A Sandwich Sit Out? [Find Out Now]

Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but lunchtime provides the boost you need to get through that afternoon energy slump.

What this means is that you don’t want to make a mealtime mistake and have your food spoiled before you get a chance to eat it! How long can a sandwich sit out? We have everything you knead to know!

Sandwiches that include meat, eggs, dairy products, freshly sliced fruits, and vegetables as well as perishable condiments should only sit out for two hours or less.

Otherwise, dangerous bacteria will begin to grow. Additionally, if temperatures are above 90 degrees than the sandwich will go bad after just an hour.

The only sandwiches that are safe to leave out for longer periods of time are nut butter-based options. However, jelly, jam, and bananas will not bode well for extended times so add these ingredients right before consumption. 

Finally, you can elongate the life of your sandwiches by storing them in insulated containers with either ice or hot packs. 

Safe Sandwich Storage Guidelines

Avoid The Danger Zone — Don’t Let Your Sandwich Sit Out Too Long

Sandwiches come in all colors, shapes, and sizes and include an array of ingredients! However, one thing is certain – the only way to ensure that your sandwich stays safe to eat is to abide by the two-hour rule.

This is unless you are making a valiant effort to keep the food hot or cold.

The Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40 °F and 140 °F in which bacteria can grow rapidly.

To keep food out of the Danger Zone, keep cold food cold, at or below 40 °F, and hot food hot, at or above 140 °F.”

While the 2-hour window is a good guideline, if the temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the amount of time drops to just an hour.

These recommendations are imperative for perishable foods like deli meats, tuna, egg or chicken salad, cheeses, prepared leafy greens, and condiments like mayo and dressing.

This is also extremely important for pulled pork sandwiches, meatball subs, breakfast sandwiches, sloppy joes, and virtually any type of panini. Why?

Deli meats and soft cheeses are known to have listeria when handled incorrectly. Salmonella is found in egg products and meats like pork, turkey, chicken, and even beef.

breakfast sandwich

Additionally, beef, fruits, and vegetables all run the risk of E. coli. Proper food handling can help to protect you from these detrimental pathogens.

Pay Attention To Packaging And Serving Conditions

As mentioned, if the dish is served hot, then it is safe to assume that it needs to stay hot in order to prevent the instance of food poisoning following consumption.

Similarly, if the ingredients are stored in the refrigerator, then the sandwich should be as well. However, not all foods start in the refrigerated section of the store.

Many shelf-stable foods are safe at room temperature until the seal is broken. This is why it is so important to read the packaging.

Manufacturers make it very clear how their food should be handled after the container is opened.

However, if the instructions are not specifically dictated on the packaging, use common sense.

Meat that is not cured or dehydrated is not safe to leave out. Dairy products and spreads like mayo also need refrigeration.

A can of tuna may not say “refrigerate after opening”, but your tuna sandwich needs to stay cold in order to stay fresh.

Exceptions To The Rule – The Sandwich Types That Can Sit Out

There is always an exception to the rule and in this case, it is the ever-popular peanut butter!

This shelf-stable nut butter is the perfect ingredient for your sandwich that can sit out for extended periods of time.

This is also the case for similar products like almond and cashew butter. 

Some Peanut Butter Sandwich Pairings Are Perishable

Jam & Jelly

There is one large caveat when it comes to peanut butter sandwiches. This safety exception only applies if you make a plain nut butter sandwich.

Peanut butter and jelly is very different story. This sweet and spreadable ingredient is filled with sugar.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

This fuels bacteria growth. In addition, the packaging explicitly notes that jams and jellies must be refrigerated after opening since oxygen and moisture can bring spoilage.

Therefore, if you eat a jelly sandwich every day, it is best to keep them on ice.


Moreover, for those who like to combine peanut butter with bananas, a similar issue can occur.

This mild fruit is very low in acid content and is quite susceptible to oxidation.

However, this can be easily remedied. Simply make the peanut butter sandwich in advance and then add the banana when lunchtime rolls around.


Conversely, peanut butter and honey fans are in luck! This sticky and sweet condiment is highly acidic and has antibacterial properties.

This makes it an ideal ingredient for a sandwich that may sit out for longer periods of time.

Nonetheless, remember that light and heat can change the flavor of honey. Thus, always keep these sammies at room temperature and in a paper bag or opaque container to prevent any issues. 

Factors That Impact Spoilage

Food spoilage is a problem that impacts everyone, even with the best intentions. Food industry professionals refer to the factors that impact food longevity as FAT TOM.

This acronym stands for Food, Acidity, Time, Temperature, Oxygen, and Moisture. 

Factor #1: Food Type

Carbohydrates, dairy, and proteins are the foods that will spoil the fastest. This makes them high-risk options to include on your sandwich.

If you are using these ingredients, then it is important to consider also using tools to keep them at the ideal temperature.

Factor #2: Acidity Levels

Conversely, acidic foods create a hostile environment for bacteria. What this means is that lunchtime options that are high in citric acid, like lemons, oranges, pineapples, and tomatoes will fare well whereas fresh vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains have a tendency to degrade quickly.

For the vegetarians in the room, your sandwich will potentially fare better at room temperature for long periods, depending on the ingredients of choice.

Vinegar-based dressings, olives, and some legume-based spreads (like certain types of hummus) can do quite well at room temperature for slightly longer time frames.

Factors #3 And #4: Time And Temperature

These guidelines refer to the Danger Zone mentioned above. Any foods exposed to temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours are subject to dangerous bacteria growth.

As the temperature rises, this window decreases. Thus, most sandwiches are not an ideal meal to sit out for long periods of time.

Factors #5 And #6: Oxygen & Moisture

These are the environmental components that can make or break bacteria growth. In order to thrive, almost all living organisms need oxygen and moisture.

This is the main reason why using a vacuum sealer machine is so effective at preserving foods for long-term storage. 

Not only does it remove the instance of oxygen, but it also prevents moisture from getting into the packaging.

This can greatly lengthen the time frame that foods can stay fresh and safe to eat. If you do not have this appliance available, then a ziplock bag can do a good job as well.

Additional Factor #7: Light 

One factor not included in the acronym is light. Despite the exclusion, it can also play an instrumental role in changes in color, flavor, and even vitamin loss of certain foods.

This is especially true if other factors are in play. Heavy-duty aluminum foil is regularly used in food storage because it can limit the instance of oxygen and moisture while also preventing light from impacting the food. 

Why These Factors Matter — Methods To Keep Your Sandwich Safer To Sit Out

For those who pick up a Subway sandwich on the way to work or make their own turkey sandwich at home, it is imperative that you take precautions to keep your meal safe when a refrigerator is not an option and it has to sit out. 

By knowing the elements that can lead to spoilage, you can better protect your food and ensure that it stays safe for consumption.

How To Package Your Sandwich To Sit Out For Less Than Two Hours

If you plan to eat your sandwich within the two-hour window, you are safe to let it sit out. However, you should store it in a sealed plastic bag and then in an opaque container.

sandwich in tightly sealed container

This will limit the oxygen, moisture, and light that could expedite spoilage. Additionally, pay attention to the temperature. Do not keep your sandwich outside or in your vehicle, unless it is running.

How To Package Your Sandwich To Sit Out For Greater Than Two Hours

Since refrigeration is not always an option, an insulated lunch tote and ice packs are simple ideal investments that can extend the shelf life of your sandwich.

Purchase double insulated, lightweight, and water-resistant lunch bags to ensure the highest level of safety and convenience.

Moreover, find options with different compartments for the various food types. 

For meals that need to stay warm, buy a mini hot water bottle or rice pack. Then, when packaging your sandwiches, wrap them in aluminum foil instead of a ziplock back or plastic wrap.

Final Thoughts

For those folks who like to pick up sandwiches to-go and happen to forget an ice pack, simply ask the shop owner for some ice and keep ziplock bags handy in your car.

It is a simple fix that will help to better guarantee that you stay safe at mealtime.

Finally, even if you do use an insulated lunch bag and ice (or heat) packs if four hours pass by, it is best to toss the food and find an alternative option.

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