Often when we cook at home or eat in a restaurant, we have leftovers. Safe handling of leftovers is very important to reducing foodborne illness. “How long can I keep leftovers in the refrigerator?” “To what temperature should I reheat leftovers?” “If I thaw leftovers, can I refreeze them?” To answer these questions and others, follow the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s recommendations for handling leftovers safely.
Cook Food Safely at Home – The first step in having safe leftovers is cooking the food safely in the first place. Use a food thermometer to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe, minimum internal temperature.
• Red meats: Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
• Ground meats: Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
• Poultry: Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
Keep Food out of the “Danger Zone” – Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or hotter to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or holding it hot, leftovers must be refrigerated. Throw away all perishable foods that have been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is over 90° F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer). Cold perishable food, such as chicken salad or a platter of deli meats, should be kept at 40° F or below. When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers, or warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often.
Cool Food Rapidly – To prevent bacterial growth, it’s important to cool food rapidly so it reaches as fast as possible the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40° F or below. To do this, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. A big pot of soup, for example, will take a long time to cool, inviting bacteria to multiply and increasing the danger of foodborne illness. Instead, divide the pot of soup into smaller containers so it will cool quickly. For whole roasts or hams, slice or cut them into smaller parts. Cut turkey into smaller pieces and refrigerate. Slice breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole. Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.
Wrap Leftovers Well – Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers for storage in the refrigerator. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture, and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.
Store Leftovers Safely – Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen (0° F or below) for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.
Now for a quiz:
- 2 – 4 Degrees
- 0 – 2 Degrees
- 6 – 8 Degrees
- 4 – 6 Degrees
- 1 Day
- 1 Week
- 5 Days
- 2 Days
- 10 Seconds
- 5 Seconds
- 20 Seconds
- 15 Seconds