What is the 2 4 hour rule?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question “What is the 2-4 hour rule?” and tell you how to properly store food to avoid spoilage. We will also discuss food poisoning in detail.

What is the 2 4 hour rule?

The 2/4 hour rule tells us how long perishable foods will last at a temperature between 5 to 60 degrees, which is known as the danger zone. Perishable items include meat, cooked meat, dairy, and vegetables etc.

The 2/4 hour rule states that:

Under 2 hours

The food is safe for consumption or it can be refrigerated at temperatures less than 5 degrees.

Between 2-4 hours

The food is safe for consumption, however it is advisable to not put it back in the refrigerator and consume it immediately.

Over 4 hours

Food is no longer safe for consumption and should be discarded in order to avoid food poisoning.

How to store food properly to avoid spoilage?

The key to avoid food spoilage and increase their shelf life is to store the food properly.

  1. Keep the fresh uncooked meat frozen and always cover it with saran wrap or place it in zip lock bags to avoid contamination of other food products in the freezer.
  1. Keep any fresh produce like fruits and vegetables separately in the produce compartment of the refrigerator. The gasses produced by them can cause other food items to go bad.
  1. Keep the condiments in the pantry when unopened and place them in the refrigerator once they have been opened.
  1. Do not wash fruits and vegetables before placing them in the fridge as mold can grow on them if they are damp.
  1. Do not overcrowd the refrigerator. Overcrowding prevents cool air inside the refrigerator from spreading evenly across all food items.
  1. Always allow the freshly cooked food to come back to room temperature before placing them in the fridge.
  1. Do not leave the refrigerator door open for longer periods of time to avoid temperature fluctuations inside the refrigerator.
  1. Keep the dry spices in a cool, dry place, away from moisture, light, and heat. Keep them inside a drawer or in the pantry.

What is food poisoning and what are the symptoms?

Food poisoning, or foodborne illness, is something a person gets after eating spoiled or contaminated food. Some pathogens do not alter the texture or taste of food so it is not easy to tell if the food has been contaminated or not.

It is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or their toxins. The most common pathogen causing food poisoning is Salmonella which is usually present in poultry and other dairy products. 

It is very common and it rarely ever goes undetected.

The symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, malaise, loss of appetite and headache. The symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Food poisoning can be severe if the diarrhea lasts for more than three days which is accompanied by high fever. Severe vomiting and inability to keep food down can also lead to dehydration.

In case of dehydration, admission to a hospital may be necessary as it can lead to serious consequences. 

How to manage food poisoning?

Mild to moderate food poisoning can be managed at home. If your symptoms are mild then start by eating bland foods with little to no fat so that they are easily digested. Spicy or fatty foods can irritate the stomach further.

Avoid taking dairy products such as milk until you feel better. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine as much as you can.

Have foods like rice, crackers, and bananas. Eat yogurt as much as you can because yogurt has probiotics that can help fight off pathogenic bacteria. Yogurt is also good for the stomach.

Increase fiber intake in your diet so that the food is easily digested without putting the already upset stomach under more stress. 

Take vitamin C supplements or foods rich in vitamin C since vitamin C can help boost immunity. Strong immunity will help your body get rid of harmful pathogens naturally.

Since diarrhea and vomiting can make you lose a lot of water and leave you dehydrated, it is essential to keep drinking water. You can also take fruit juices or chicken broth to maintain adequate water levels inside your body. You can also buy oral rehydration solutions from a pharmacy and drink them.

However, if the symptoms are severe such that the diarrhea lasts for more than 3 days and you have high fever, or if you experience profuse vomiting that can lead to dehydration,  then it is advised that you go to the hospital. The doctors will stabilize the electrolyte balance and give you all the medicines needed.

A high fever may indicate a strong infection for which antibiotics may be necessary.

Learn more about food poisoning here.


In this brief guide, we answered the question “What is the 2-4 hour rule?” and told you how to properly store food to avoid spoilage. We also discussed food poisoning in detail.


Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.