Often times you may have leftovers from large dishes such as casseroles, but ask yourself … are you storing your leftovers safely? Check out our tips below from the USDA on properly handling leftovers or visit their website for even more information on food safety.
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 warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, 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. Discard any cold leftovers that have been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).
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.
Cut large items of food into smaller portions to cool. 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. 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 for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.
After you’ve stored those leftovers safely, be sure you’re reheating them safely as well:
When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.
When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish, and add some liquid if needed. Be sure the covering is microwave safe, and vent the lid or wrap to let the steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking. Also, because microwaves have cold spots, check the temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer and allow a resting time before checking the internal temperature of the food with a food thermometer. Cooking continues for a longer time in dense foods such as a whole turkey or beef roast than in less dense foods like bread, small vegetables, and fruits.
Top Tips for Reheating Leftovers:
Reheating foods using the best method can help make your leftovers taste just as great as the first bite. Here is a guide to help you decide which appliance and tips to use for reheating like a pro.
As a reminder, how you cooked your food is going to always be the best option for reheating. However, sometimes smaller amounts of leftovers and the amount of time you have to reheat can change things up. Always take the time to use a food thermometer to safely reheat your leftovers to 165 degrees F.
The best methods for reheating are using the oven, stovetop, and microwave. They all will do the job of heating, but overheating in either one can lead to dry or burnt food.
Oven– low temperatures, slow, and even heat circulation give the best quality food when reheating.
Stovetop– Lower temperatures heat thoroughly, reheating foods with moisture, such as soups and stews, reheat well.
Microwave– High heating temperatures along with faster reheating times can cause the textures of foods to change. Covering foods with a damp towel will create moisture to prevent food from drying out.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular leftovers:
Pizza- if reheating a large whole or half pizza, it is best to reheat in an oven. For 1-2 slices, reheat on the stovetop in a pan with a lid. The crust will toast and the cheese will melt perfectly.
Bread, Pastries, Breaded Foods, Grilled Sandwiches– the best reheating option is in the oven. Keeping a crisp crust will heat perfectly with the circulating dry air and a constant temperature.
Soups, Stews, Chilis– Both the microwave and stovetop will reheat these foods well. Since these foods have more moisture, they would heat evenly on the stovetop with consistent stirring.
Casseroles– Reheat in individual servings in the microwave. Smaller amounts to reheat warm faster and evenly when stirring often.
BBQ– reheat in the oven to prevent overcooking or meat drying.