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Do I Need to Refrigerate the Pie?

holiday pies

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, and holiday meal preparation keeping families busy, one item families do not want to be concerned about is classic desserts causing foodborne illness, commonly called food poisoning.

“A common food safety question around the holidays is, do I have to refrigerate the pies?" explains Lisa Peterson, University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator.

“Well, that depends on the type of pie," Peterson states. "Pies with ingredients typically stored in the refrigerator, or are higher in protein and moisture, give bacteria the ideal environment to grow and become harmful at room temperature."

Pies made with eggs, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, milk, including evaporated or condensed milk need special care. Pumpkin, cream, chiffon, or custard-based pies should not be out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.

"Keep in mind, custard and cream-based pies often do not freeze well," adds Peterson.

Foodborne illness causes 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To ensure pies are being stored correctly, read the ingredients in the recipe. If a pie contains eggs or dairy products, it should be stored in the refrigerator and not left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Pies that do not contain dairy products, such as fruit pies can be stored, loosely covered at room temperature for up to two days. Additionally, to keep the fruit pies a few extra days, they can be stored in the refrigerator.

When discussing the safety of a homemade pumpkin pie, they should be stored in the refrigerator because of the ingredients.

One response Peterson hears when discussing pumpkin pie storage is, “The grocery stores keep their pumpkin and pecan pies at room temperature, why can’t I?” There is a difference between a store-bought pie and a homemade pie, and it has to do with ingredients and processing. Store-bought pies contain preservatives to keep pies safe and shelf-stable. They must also follow compliance with the Food and Drug Administration.

“Pumpkin pie must reach an internal temperature of 180°F at its coolest point to destroy microorganisms, follow good manufacturing practices guidelines, undergo microbial testing, and be labeled with a use-by date," Peterson explains. "Pies can still be prepared before the holiday event; providing they are being stored correctly."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, pumpkin pie can be kept up to four days in the refrigerator and kept in the freezer for the best quality for up to two months.

Taking extra care to wash hands before preparing food, using a food thermometer, and storing food correctly are just a few ways to prevent a holiday mishap.

Looking for additional recipes or questions about preparing a turkey? Visit University of Illinois Extension website, Turkey for the Holidays” at, or get a quick answer by calling your local Extension office.

For those looking to prepare a diabetes-friendly pumpkin pie, try the fluffy pumpkin pie recipe from University of Illinois Extension’s Recipe for Diabetes website. University of Illinois Extension wishes all a happy and healthy holiday season.

For more information, contact Lisa Peterson, University of Illinois Extension Nutrition & Wellness Educator at 217-532-3941.

Fluffy Pumpkin Pie

½ package Jiffy® pie crust mix
½ cup Splenda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ cup skim milk
1 egg
1 can pumpkin, 15 ounces
½ teaspoon cinnamon


1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 cup Cool Whip Free®

  1. Prepare pie crust mix according to directions. Cool.
  2. Whisk Splenda, gelatin, cornstarch, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat until boils and thickens. Whisk half of the mixture into egg; then back into remaining milk mixture, heating until thickens.
  3. Remove milk mixture from heat and fold in pumpkin and spices. Cool.
  4. Fold topping into pumpkin mixture and spread into pie crust. Chill until set.

Nutrition Facts: Makes 8 servings: 142 calories, 7 g. fat, 141 mg. sodium, 17 g. , looking, 2 g. dietary fiber, 3 g. protein