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What Kind of Hell Is This Room-Temperature Hummus Gonna Bring Upon on My Insides?

I swear that it was in the fridge until just like six or seven hours ago

As a Metro Detroit native, I speak from experience when I tell you that the region is home to the highest caliber of Middle Eastern cuisine in the U.S. Rare were the times that my whole takeout order from the great many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dining establishments there wasn’t finished within minutes, with even the hummus not lasting long enough to need to be refrigerated.

That said, one of my most memorable bouts of food poisoning involved a takeout order of hummus acquired from a Southfield restaurant called La Fendi’s, which I only feel comfortable mentioning by name because it was closed down long ago to make way for a credit union. In fairness, that hummus made quite the unrefrigerated journey that day. At a minimum, it traveled from the corner of 11 Mile Road and Evergreen, to the lifeguards’ red picnic table at the Southfield Sports Arena, and finally to my house, where I finished off whatever was left later that evening. 

So did I deserve my food poisoning? All signs point to yes. But that begs the question, exactly how long can hummus sit out before it goes bad anyway?

How can we figure that out?

A wise place to start is by looking at the ingredients used to create hummus.

In my experience, those are chickpeas, tahini and olive oil, with garlic and lemon juice also commonly added. I already know what you’re wondering, and I’m way ahead of you — tahini consists of sesame seeds that have been toasted, hulled and mixed with olive oil and salt. Also, the chickpeas must be cooked and hulled before you crush or blend them in order to make smooth hummus, but the chickpeas that you extract from a can have ordinarily been precooked.

In cases like this, a food concoction is usually only as safe and sustainable as its weakest ingredient. Working in the favor of hummus is its tahini, which is shockingly durable and capable of lasting a full week in a refrigerator, or one to three days outside of a refrigerator. However, the other ingredients are far less durable, especially the chickpeas and the lemon juice. Cooked chickpeas will last up to five days in a refrigerator, but are recommended to be discarded if left at room temperature for longer than two hours. Meanwhile, fresh lemon juice will rapidly accumulate bacteria and begin to go bad after only a couple of hours as well.

So, being a teenage numbskull, getting takeout hummus and allowing it to bask in the summer sun of Michigan for hours on end before polishing it off many more hours after that was an optimal way for me to induce a subsequent barfing incident.

That was pretty stupid of you!

I don’t need you to tell me that! I agree, and I learned a valuable lesson in the process: I’d never eat plain-cooked chickpeas, cooked sesame seeds or drink fresh lemon juice if I let them remain out and unrefrigerated for a similar length of time. So why did I ever think I could do the same when they were mixed together?

All of which is to say, if you purchase hummus, either be prepared to consume it on the spot, or get ready to make a mad dash to a refrigerator — or a much later mad dash to the bathroom