Make sure you store your leftovers correctly.

How Long Is Too Long to Keep Leftover Food?

For many people, the best part of making dinner is knowing that there will be leftover food. Many foods even taste better the next day, after the flavors have melded overnight; this is particularly true of fall and winter meals such as soups and stews. However, other foods shouldn’t be saved at all. If you’ve ever had questions about storing leftovers, here’s everything you need to know:

What to Store

There’s more to storing leftovers than just putting a plate of uneaten food in the fridge. For one, not all foods will last, even if only for one night, such as a dressed salad. However, foods cooked with aromatics, such as onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers, and garlic, generally make fabulous leftovers. Aromatics boost flavors, and this flavor enhancement continues even when you reheat the meal.

How Long Leftovers Last

When you put leftover food in the fridge and only see it again when mold has started to form, you’ve missed your opportunity. It’s also not a good idea to rely on smelling food because it can be contaminated yet still smell perfectly fine. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), you can keep most leftover food in the fridge for three to four days, and most foods stay good in the freezer for three to four months.

Leaving Food Out

Watch the clock. The USDA reports that once you take food out of the fridge, out of the oven, or off the stove for serving, you can leave it out for no more than two hours before you need to refrigerate it. If the food was left out longer than two hours, get rid of it. If you aren’t sure how long it’s been out, adopt this motto and practice it: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

What to Store Leftovers In

The best way to store leftovers is to wrap them in airtight packaging, or use covered storage containers. Both plastic and glass containers work. If you use plastic, look on the bottom of the container for the resin identification code number, which will be a number between 1 and 7. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you should avoid numbers 3, 6, and 7 for food storage, and never microwave food in plastic containers because high temperatures can break down the plastic. Keeping food on a serving plate and covering it is also not ideal because bacteria can easily enter the food.

Here’s a small guide to how long you can leave various types of food in the fridge and still enjoy them safely:



Who doesn’t love leftover pizza?

Image Source: Flickr

When you can’t finish that large pizza, cover the slices with plastic wrap or aluminum foil before refrigerating them, or put the slices in a heavy-duty freezer bag for freezing. Pizza should last for three to four days in the fridge, or one to two months in the freezer.

Soups and Stews

You can safely store soups and stews in the refrigerator for three to four days, and for two to three months in the freezer. Instead of putting the big soup or stew pot in the fridge, put the food in small containers. This way, the soup or stew cools faster, which makes it less likely for bacteria to grow. When you reheat soup, bring it to a boil and stir it to distribute the heat throughout.

Chicken and Turkey

Roast chicken

Save leftover chicken or turkey in the fridge for up to three or four days.

Image Source: Flickr

Store leftover chicken and turkey pieces in the fridge for three to four days and for two to six months in the freezer. The best way to store a leftover whole chicken or turkey is to cut it into individual pieces. You can leave the wings and legs whole. Slice the breast meat, layer it, put it in a container, and pour some warm broth over it. This method applies whether you’re refrigerating or freezing the leftover poultry. The broth helps prevent the breast meat from drying out, even after you reheat it.

Chinese Takeout

It’s tempting to put your leftover Chinese takeout in the fridge in the same container it came in, but it will last longer if you put it in an airtight container. Leftover fried rice lasts five to seven days with this method, and it can be stored for six months in the freezer.

Now that you know how to properly store leftovers, feel free to cook away, knowing that whatever doesn’t get eaten right away can still be enjoyed later.

Main Image Source: Flickr

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