Can pancakes (made without eggs or milk) be stored overnight without refrigeration?
Thanks for the question, Steve
From my experience, there are common items that we might leave out of the refrigerator and not question their safety–pancakes, butter, bread, and pies, being examples. Few cases of food borne illnesses are reported for these foods, most likely because they are handled with clean utensils and not our hands.
When we do not use refrigeration to control the growth of pathogens (i.e., 40F or lower) for these foods, there are 2 factors that need to considered–pH and water activity.
pH is a measurement of the concentration of hydrogen ions. The higher the level of hydrogen ions, the greater the acidity, which translates to a lower pH value (since pH is expressed as the inverse of hydrogen ion concentration). Food safety experts have found that the minimum pH that does not support the growth of any pathogenic bacteria is approximately 4.5. However, in the case of pancakes, the pH of cooked pancakes (most common recipes) would likely be well above 4.5, and therefore may potentially support the growth of some pathogenic bacterial species.
And so, the other factor that might control pathogen growth in cooked pancakes is water activity. Water activity is a measure of the level of water that is available to support bacterial growth. This is sometimes referred to as “free water”, and is measured on a scale of 0 to 1, with 1 being the level for pure water. We can lower water activity in a food by adding more sugar or salt. Similar to pH and temperature, there is a specific water activity level that food safety experts consider to be too low to support the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This level is 0.85, and most cooked pancakes would be expected to be greater than 0.85.
Therefore, please consider that leaving cooked pancakes out of the refrigerator can potentially allow pathogenic bacteria to grow. If cooked pancakes were to be left out of the refrigerator, the best ways to minimize potential contamination of the pancakes is to use sanitary utensils, plates, and to cover the pancakes with a sanitary wrap or store in a sanitary container.
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