Pies are an all–time favorite dessert and a feature of our winter holiday celebrations. Cooking and storing pies safely is important because bacteria that cause foodborne illness can grow in certain pies kept at room temperature, especially when the ingredients include milk, other dairy products, and eggs.
Food Safety for Pies Containing Dairy Ingredients or Eggs
If a pie contains milk, cream and or eggs, it has to be refrigerated to remain food safe. 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.
This caution also applies to milk alternatives such as soy- or almond-milk. These plant-based milk alternatives are just as likely to support bacterial growth.
What pies contain milk, cream or eggs? Always check the recipe, or an ingredient statement for a purchased pie. Typically though, pumpkin and pecan pies do contain eggs, but fruit pies do not. Lemon meringue and all types of chiffon pies contain eggs, so they should be kept in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Pumpkin pies are usually a custard-style pie made using eggs and milk.
Time and Temperature Controls
Food temperature controls are especially important with foods that could support rapid microbial growth; these foods are referred to as potentially hazardous and we keep these foods stored in the refrigerator so they are not in the ‘danger zone.’
What does this mean for pies containing dairy ingredients or eggs? After baking, it’s OK to leave pies at room temperature to cool, generally 2-4 hours. Within 4 hours, place the pie in the refrigerator. Cover loosely with plastic wrap until serving. Pie may be refrigerated for 2-6 days. Use the leftovers within 6 days, too.
If you purchase a cream or custard pie such as a pumpkin pie, be sure to refrigerate it as soon as you reach home. And store it in the refrigerator as you would a homemade pie.
Fruit-based pies contain enough sugar and acid that they can be safely stored at room temperature. But they will retain quality longer if stored in the refrigerator (assuming you are lucky enough to have leftovers!)
For longer term storage, consider freezing prepared pies. Some custard or whipped cream-topped pies will deteriorate in quality when frozen, but fruit-filled or pecan pies generally hold up well to freezing for longer-term storage.