Storing Leftovers Safely

Handling your leftovers safely helps prevent food-borne illness. Germs that make food go bad can grow if you don’t keep the food at the right temperature.

If you leave food out for more than two hours, throw it away. To be safe, discard all perishable foods left out at room temperature for more than two hours from the time they were prepared. Discard food after one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees.

Wash your hands with soap and water before handling leftovers.

Divide leftovers into small containers for quicker cooling. To cool foods such as pots of soup or stew more quickly, set the pot in ice water and stir before putting it into containers and refrigerating. Cover the storage container with tin foil, plastic wrap or a tightly-fitted lid. Label the leftover container with the date so you know how long it has been in the fridge.

Check the temperature of your fridge with a refrigerator thermometer. The temperature should be between 35 and 40 degrees. Don’t fill your refrigerator too full. Cool air needs to circulate to keep food at a safe temperature.

If you plan to bring leftovers home from a restaurant, put a cooler in your car before you leave for the restaurant. Cars can get very warm inside and germs grow fast. Refrigerate your restaurant leftovers as soon as you get home. All the time the food sat out at the restaurant and on the ride home counts towards the two hours allowed.

Use leftovers containing meat within three days and any other leftovers within five days. If you reheat leftovers in a microwave, stir the food halfway through cooking to eliminate cold spots where bacteria can survive. Let the microwaved food set for a couple of minutes after reheating so the heat distributes evenly throughout the food.

Generally, you should not reheat food more than two times because of bacteria growth.

When in doubt, throw it out!


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