How Long Can Coffee with Creamer Sit Out? (Science Explained)


You have a cup of coffee you’ve been sipping on all morning. Maybe you’re at work, or you are busy taking care of the kids. It’s the sixth time you’ve reheated your coffee in the microwave and you wonder if it’s safe to keep drinking this reheated hot beverage. We’ve all been there. 

Coffee with creamer can be a source of food-borne illness if left out too long. This post will go over the science behind the food safety guidelines so you can decide whether you should keep drinking your old coffee, or toss it. 

Blue coffee mug on a white saucer. The coffee cup contains coffee with creamer.

What is the Cause of Food-Borne Illness?

Food borne-illness occurs when food is contaminated with harmful bacteria. There are many known bacteria that are common culprits for food-borne illness. Some of these bacteria cause sickness simply by their presence in food. This is why it is so important to cook your foods to the proper temperature. 

Certain types of food, such as meat and poultry, have specific bacteria that they are more likely to be contaminated with. When cooked to the proper temperature, these bacteria are killed and much less likely to cause illness. 

On the other hand, there are bacteria that produce a toxin in food that remains even if the bacteria itself is killed. These types of bacteria are of particular concern when dealing with food that has been sitting out.

If food is left to sit out in the “danger zone” (which we will discuss more below), it allows harmful bacteria to multiply rapidly. Some of these types of bacteria, such as staph… produce toxins that cause sickness. 

Even if this food is reheated to high temperatures, the toxin will remain even if the bacteria itself is killed. 

What are Common Symptoms of Food-Borne Illness?

The symptoms of food-borne illness, commonly referred to as food poisoning, are usually gastrointestinal symptoms, however you may also feel like you have the flu. 

Your symptoms will also depend on the type of bacteria that caused your food-borne illness. 

Some of the most common symptoms of food-borne illness include stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. In severe cases, you may even experience fever, body aches or blood in your stool. 

If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention. 

What is the Danger Zone for Food-Borne Illness?

You may have heard people refer to the food “danger zone.” This danger zone is a temperature range at which bacteria that can potentially cause food-borne illness grows rapidly. The danger zone temperature range is between 40-140oF.

The FDA recommends that refrigerators be kept at a temperature below 40oF. Many people will advise you to keep refrigerator around 37oF as this is well within the FDA recommendation but will generally not cause food to freeze.

It is important to recognize that certain parts of the fridge will be warmer than others. This is another good reason to keep your fridge at least a couple degrees below 40oF. 

Refrigerator doors in particular tend to be warmer than the rest of the fridge. For this reason, it’s a good idea to avoid storing foods that are more likely to go bad on the fridge door. 

Examples of items that would be better to keep on the main shelves of your fridge rather than the door include milk and dairy products as well as meat products. 

What Type of Germs Cause Food-Borne Illness?

There are many known causes of food-borne illnesses. Most are caused by bacteria such as E. coli, or viruses like rotavirus. According to the CDC approximately 3000 people die every year in the US from food-borne illnesses.

How Long Can Coffee with Creamer Sit Out?

So now that we went over why it’s important to follow food safety, let’s discuss how long coffee with creamer can sit out without going bad. The short answer is that coffee with creamer should be consumed, thrown out, or refrigerated in 1-2 hours.

You may have heard of something called the “2-hour rule”. This rule states that perishable food should be either refrigerated or tossed after 2 hours of sitting out. So coffee with creamer should be tossed or consumed within 2 hours of its preparation. 

There is a caveat to this rule, if a perishable food item has been sitting out at higher temperatures above 90F, it should be tossed within 1 hour. 

These time frames are based on how fast bacteria can grow in your food so the longer you leave your food out, the more likely it is that you will become ill from a food-borne illness. 

How Long Can Coffee Creamer Sit Out?

The 1 and 2-hour rules also apply to coffee creamer that has been left out, even if it has not been added to coffee yet. So make sure you toss or store it after 1-2 hours of sitting out.

rustic table with a glass bottle vase containing green branches. In the center of the table, there is a glass mug jar containing coffee. An arm with a striped black and white shirt is pouring coffee creamer into the glass jar.

How to Store Leftover Coffee

Coffee is best stored in an air-tight container in the fridge. Black coffee without creamer will last longer before going bad, but the flavor of older coffee, (even if it’s only one day-old coffee) will not taste very good compared to your freshly brewed morning coffee. 

Your coffee will taste best if it is brewed fresh and consumed within an hour or two. After this point, the coffee starts to develop an off flavor and may have a bitter taste. 

What is the Shelf Life of Liquid Coffee Creamers?

Shelf Life of Dry vs Liquid Coffee Creamers

Coffee creamers typically come in either a dry powder form or a liquid form (such as Coffee Mate Liquid Creamer). 

Dry powders will usually have a longer shelf life as they often do not need to be refrigerated. They should be kept in an airtight container in a dry place for best results.The lack of moisture in these products makes it difficult for bacteria to replicate, but once added to coffee, they should be consumed or refrigerated promptly. 

Liquid coffee creamers are usually stored in the refrigerator, but there are some liquid individual coffee creamers that do not require refrigeration. As a general rule, if you found it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, it should be refrigerated. Always check the label to see how you should store the specific type of coffee creamer you are using though.

Refrigerated coffee creamers will usually have a shorter shelf life. This applies to both dairy-based coffee creamer and non-dairy coffee creamer.

How to Use the Best By Date on Coffee Creamers

Most coffee creamers will come labeled with a use-by date. Although most products you see in the grocery store have some sort of date on them, they are not required by law (unless it is baby formula). 

It is important to remember that a use-by date is not the same as an expiration date. They are meant to be used as a guide for your food and it does not mean you have to throw your food out after this time.

In fact the USDA has actually said that expiration dates are not meant to be used as a “safety date” (except for baby formula which is a safety date), but rather as a quality date. 

This means that food will be at its peak quality when used before the labeled date.

You may notice that most dates labeled on food products do not actually say “expiration date” but rather, “best if used by”. This is actually because the USDA has been encouraging food companies to use this phrase to help curb confusion about how to use the date labels on food. 

Why Is My Coffee Creamer Thick?

You may also wonder how long coffee creamer lasts. The best way to tell if your coffee creamer is still good is to inspect your food before consuming it. Use the date as a guide, but inspect your food for yourself for signs of spoilage. 

Signs of spoilage in your coffee creamer include visible signs of mold or bacterial growth. Also take a look at the creamer to see if you notice a texture change. If your coffee creamer has lumps or looks thicker than when you bought it, this may be a sign of spoilage. You may also notice color changes, and a sour taste or unpleasant smell. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to toss your coffee creamer.

What is the Difference Between Dairy and Non-Dairy Coffee Creamers?

There are several different types of coffee creamers on the market today. Many of these creamers contain dairy, however there are also several non-dairy creamers on the market as well. 

Dairy coffee creamers refer to straight dairy products like heavy cream or half and half, but can also refer to more processed sweetened dairy-based coffee creamers. Some examples include International Delight Creamer, Coffee Mate Creamer. 

Types of Non-Dairy Coffee Creamers

Some non-dairy products include Silk, So Delicious, and Oatly. Many chain stores such as Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and Sprouts also have come out with their own non-dairy version of coffee creamers. These non-dairy creamers typically have a base of almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, or even vegetable oil. 

Be careful to check the label to ensure that your non-dairy creamer is in fact completely dairy-free. Some will label a product “dairy-free” to indicate that it is mostly dairy free or that it is lactose-free. These are not completely vegan and can be a concern if you have a dairy allergy. Besides being labeled as milk, you may also see the terms “whey” or “casein”, which are both dairy based. 

Although dairy is often thought of as a culprit for food-borne illness, be aware that liquid non-dairy creamers are still perishable items and should still be consumed using food-safe guidelines. 


There are many pathogens that can cause illness in food. The longer your coffee with creamer sits out, more likely you are to get sick. The bottom line is if you have either an iced or hot coffee with creamer that has been sitting at room temperature for a long time, the best thing to do is toss it.

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