Your gathering is over and you have lots of food leftover. There are some important rules about leftovers that you need to follow to ensure no one gets foodborne illness.
Leftovers can only be kept for 2-3 days (4 is pushing it) in the refrigerator. Be sure to eat them within that time. After that, the risk of foodborne illness increases. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat leftovers within four days, freeze them immediately.
Leftovers During the Party – 2 Hour Rule
If you have any leftovers from your party, refrigerate them within 2 hours. If food is left out in a hot environment, with temperatures above 90°F, refrigerate within 1 hour.
Leftovers – Cold Storage Food Safety
Leftovers are only safe for 2-3 days in the fridge. After that they may begin to spoil. If you don’t plan to use your leftovers soon, freeze them! They are best 2-3 months in the freezer.
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A rule of thumb for leftover food to be stored safe, food must be kept under conditions of what is called the Rule of 4: Absolutely no more than 4 days in the refrigerator at 40˚F (4˚C) or less.
Leftovers – Cold Food Storage Tips
Follow these tips for best food cold storage results.
- Small Portions: Divide perishable food items into smaller portions or pieces, place in a shallow container, and refrigerate (or freeze) within 2 hours after the party.
- Airtight Packaging: Wrap leftovers in airtight packaging, or seal them into freezer bags or airtight containers. This helps keep bacteria out, retain moisture and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator
- Refrigerator: Leftovers kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and then must be eaten or put in the freezer.
- Freezer: Leftovers will last in the freezer for 3-4 months. Although the leftovers are safe indefinitely in the freezer, they can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times.
Leftovers – Cold Food Storage Times
Use the Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart below – recommended by the FDA – to know how long to store food in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage:
Source: FDA – Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart (PDF)
Reheat Leftovers Safely
When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165°F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers when reheating to help retain moisture and allow the food to heat all the way through.
Leftovers should only be kept for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Be sure to eat them within that time. After that, the risk of food poisoning increases. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat leftovers within four days, freeze them immediately.