Carved pumpkins are for decorating – not for consumption

Once a pumpkin is carved, it becomes a potentially hazardous food.

Various pumpkins.
Photo: Flickr/Fred Dawson.

Fall — the time of year when people put their best works of art onto their front porches in the form of pumpkins. It is very important to note, though, that once a pumpkin has been carved, it is considered a potentially hazardous or perishable food. If you are planning on making some of your own pumpkin puree,  muffins or pie, purchase a few extra pie pumpkins for cooking and baking. Once pumpkins are carved and sit out at room temperature for more than two hours, they are in the time and temperature danger zone, which means the pumpkins can be dangerous if eaten.

So what is considered room temperature, and why does it cause a problem for food? Perishable food is not to remain in the temperature danger zone of 40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for any longer than two hours. Once a pumpkin is carved, the inside is open and inviting to bacteria. This bacteria can double every 20 minutes if the temperatures are in that danger zone and could grow to levels high enough to cause a foodborne illness.

Cold evening temperatures dropping well below 40 degrees might make you think a pumpkin sitting on the porch during the night is safe. But it is important to consider the temperature during the day, when the jack-o'-lantern work of art sits in the sun. Consider that these festive carvings may have also been exposed to dust, critters and other natural parts of the outdoor environment. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends following food safety guidelines and using only clean, fresh produce for consumption and preserving. Splurge on a few extra pie pumpkins for baking and cooking. The jack-o'-lantern pumpkin is also a different variety than the pie pumpkin and not truly designed for eating. These decorating pumpkins are stringy, coarse and not as “meaty” as other varieties. Pie pumpkins are thicker, meatier (making them difficult to carve) and offer more pulp for pureeing. Make sure as you prepare the puree, the pulp does not sit out for more than two hours, so it is not in that danger zone. Work quickly and with small amounts. If you are interested in drying seeds, they may be used from any pumpkin for roasting and enjoying as a wonderful healthy snack.

If you are considering canning your pumpkin products, remember that pumpkin puree and pumpkin butters are not to be canned, but they can be frozen. Only cubes of pumpkin may be canned in a pressure canner.

With just a few precautions, you can enjoy the tastes and smells of the fall season safely. For more information on keeping your fall dishes safe, visit MSU Extension's Safe Food & Water website.

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