How do you deal with leftover foods such as turkey, tuna salad, sushi, or pasta? Do you dispose them straight to the garbage bin, or do you refrigerate them for future consumption? If you do the latter, how long do you keep leftovers? We are well aware that keeping them for too long runs the danger food poisoning. The next question then is: How long can you keep leftovers?
To maintain food safety, put the leftovers in the fridge immediately. Do not let leftovers sit for longer than an hour if the temperature is 90ºF (32ºC) or above. At room temperature, the leftover should be refrigerated 2 hours before it was opened or touched. What is the right temperature for your fridge?
Basically, it should stay no higher than 41ºF (5ºC). This temperature is important since it slows down the growth of many bacteria. While the bacteria survive in this temperature, a 41ºF (5ºC). temperature will halt them from multiplying. Freezing leftovers at 0ºF (-18ºC) stops the growth of more bacteria. You are less likely to get sick if there are fewer bacteria.
Tips when eating leftovers
The Department of Agriculture urges people to consume refrigerated leftover foods within four days in order to ensure food safety. If you’re not sure if you could eat them within four days, freeze leftovers as soon as possible.
Before eating leftovers, you must reheat them thoroughly. You have to reheat leftover gravies, soups, and sauces until they boil. If you are going to use the oven in reheating leftover foods, set the temperature to 325ºF (163ºC) or higher to ensure that they are reheated quickly. Since bacteria grow at exponential rate between of 40ºF (4ºC) and 140ºF (60ºC), it is not advisable to reheat leftovers in chafing dishes or slow cookers or chafing dishes.
You also need to date leftover foods for you to know when to safely eat them. In general, leftovers remain safe when they are properly refrigerated for about 3-5 days. If you are in doubt, throw the leftovers out. You must not taste test them since even the tiniest amount of the contaminated food can make you ill.
How long can leftovers be stored?
Leftover meat must be consumed within 3-5 days. Chicken, sauce, gravy, tuna salads, chicken salads, and turkey pies are good for 1-2 days. Cream, milk, cream cheese, and cottage cheese can last for 7 days after opening. Hard cheeses tightly wrapped can last for 2-3 months. Cooked vegetables are good for 3-5 days in the refrigerator.
Leftover cake, cookies, and bread (or any food that is made from batter with wheat or yeast) should be consumed within 1 week in order to avoid mold. Basically, baked foods last longer (about 2 weeks) if they are refrigerated. Once opened, mayonnaise is good for 2 months. Salad dressings, once used, can last for about 3 months. Jars of salsa which have been opened and used should be disposed after 1 month.
Many people keep leftover foods much longer than the guidelines above. If you want to keep your leftovers longer, you need to make sure that you check them every time to see if they have turned slimy, moldy, rancid, stinky, or rotten. You should always check the condition of the leftover before tasting it. If in doubt, do not taste it. Throw it away.