Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Storing Leftovers Safely – Tips from Detective Foodsafe®

Storing Leftovers Safely – Tips from Detective Foodsafe®

Holiday cooking and the kitchen cupboards are full!

We are baking, cooking, and storing more food than our refrigerators and pantries can hold at this time of year as we welcome our family, guests, and party goers!

This means our pantries and refrigerators are bursting with leftover meals and ingredients that need our attention.

If you don’t plan to serve leftovers in the next few days or re-use them in new recipes, Detective Foodsafe® recommends storing them safely in the freezer to use later.

Detective Foodsafe has some tips to help us all keep our abundance of holiday foods safe to eat throughout the season and in the new year.

Storing Risky Foods Promptly

Dinner parties and holiday celebrations mean we all have leftovers – some of us may have a lot of leftovers and party foods!

Storing and reheating the extra goodies promptly and correctly is important to prevent food poisoning.

Most of us have heard the two-hour rule, but Detective Foodsafe wants to remind us to get the extra food off the table and counter quickly. Two hours is the cut off time to get perishables stored safely in the refrigerator or freezer before the hazard of the temperature danger zone becomes a reality and the growth of foodborne pathogens occurs.

If you don’t think you can re-use the leftovers in question within the next few days, it is safer to freeze them for a better time in the future when a quick meal would be a welcome idea.

Detective Foodsafe also wants us to remember that, before the delicacies become leftovers, it is a good idea when serving large crowds to put out smaller amounts of each food and refill them instead of putting it all out at once. Keeping our food at the proper temperature could help us avoid making the crowd sick.

We can also serve from a crock pot, chafing dishes, or on the stove top to keep the hot food at the proper serving temperature.

It isn’t just hot food we need to worry about. Try floating the cold food over containers of ice to keep them cold during service.

How Long Will Leftovers Last?

Proper storage in the refrigerator and freezer will not only prevent foodborne illness but also reduce the amount of food wasted, especially after holiday dinners (saving you money too!).

It is important to use an appliance thermometer to be certain your refrigerator and freezer are functioning properly. Refrigerators should be at or below 40 degrees F and freezers should be 0 degrees F.

Avoid overfilling the freezer to allow air to circulate and supply cold air throughout the unit.

Detective Foodsafe’s guidelines:

  • Cover, label and date all foods so that you can use the “first in, first out” method to prevent spoilage.
  • If you plan to store meat and poultry longer than 2 months in its store packaging, overwrap it in freezer bags or freezer paper to protect it.
  • Prepared salads with mayonnaise (such as tuna, chicken, egg, and macaroni salads) will last about 3-5 days in the refrigerator and don’t take well to freezing. To use them up faster, scoop some over a bed of lettuce for a quick lunch.
  • Cooked meat or poultry will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for 2-6 months. You may want to store leftovers in the freezer in a form ready-to-use, such as cut up for stir fry, or to use in soups or stews to make thawing easier and more convenient to use.
  • Don’t store leftovers in one big pack that will require defrosting at once, instead portion it out into more usable serving sizes for potential quick meals in the future.

Check out this Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart prepared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a complete listing of foods and times to use for your safety. 

Practice Leftover Safety

Don’t be fooled! Pathogens that lurk in food and can make you sick won’t smell or taste different. You should always be alert to potential threats, such as foods not cooked or stored at the proper temperatures. (Download this Temperature Danger Zone resource for more temperature info.)

Throw out any suspicious food that is spoiled, has mold or is past its expiration date to be safe instead of sorry.

As Detective Foodsafe says, “it isn’t worth making you, your family, or guests sick.”

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