Food Safety Rules for Pie

National Pi Day is March 14th (3.14) every year. On Pi Day, remember to refrigerate your pies to keep them safe!

Question: After a pie baked, does it have to be refrigerated – or can I leave it at room temperature?

Answer:  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it’s not safe to eat homemade pies with egg-based fillings (including pumpkin pie) that have been allowed to sit at room temperature for two hours or longer.

The reason is that bacteria will grow rapidly when the homemade pie is kept at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. To prevent foodborne illness, the pie should be refrigerated within two hours. It’s okay to place the pie in the fridge if it’s still warm.

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Why are store-bought pies ok when they are left out?
So why are store-bought pumpkin pies often displayed and sold unrefrigerated? As the food safety specialists at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center point out, commercially produced pumpkin pies have preservatives and other ingredients added to make them shelf-stable. Once you have cut into the store-bought pies, they should be refrigerated.

Which Pies Must be Refrigerated after Baking?

  • If a pie contains milk, cream and or eggs, it should be refrigerated. This includes milk and cream in any form – “regular” milk and cream (no matter what the fat content), buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese, and evaporated and condensed milk products. Those ingredients contain high levels of protein and moisture that are fertile grounds for the growth of bacteria.
  • What pies contain milk, cream or eggs? Check your recipe. Typically pumpkin and pecan pies do contain eggs, but fruit pies do not. Lemon meringue and all types of chiffon pies contain eggs, so they have to be refrigerated.
  • How does refrigeration help? Refrigeration prevents the growth of bacteria, although not indefinitely as the occasional science experiment at the back of my refrigerator (a/k/a a forgotten container of leftovers from a long forgotten meal) attest.
  • The pie should be refrigerated quickly (once it is cool enough to handle) after baking and when you bring it back to room temperature for serving, it should not be left out for more than 2 hours. In other words, don’t leave the pies out all day prior to Thanksgiving dinner, whether you make them the day before or bake them in the morning. Ugh – the refrigerator space they’ll take up! But at least now I know I have to plan that they’ll occupy a narrow refrigerator shelf for most of Thursday.
  • Why do you see pumpkin and pecan pies sitting out, unrefrigerated, in groceries and bakeries? Those pies contain preservatives and shelf-stable ingredients that allow them to be displayed and stored at room temperature. Commercially prepared pies that can be sold at room temperature should display an “RT” label; in any event they should be refrigerated after opening.

Happy Pi Day! Refrigerate your pies to keep them safe!