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Cooking with Leftovers
Now that I'm eating less fast food and cooking more, I find that I have more leftovers. How long do leftovers keep safely in the fridge?
Properly utilizing leftovers is a great way to increase the efficiency of home cooking. For instance, a big crock pot of pinto beans can serve as a hearty dinner meal, breakfast burrito fixings the next morning, and a side dish for tacos the following night! However, you are right to be concerned about the safety of leftovers as many people overestimate the length of time that prepared food will last. Consuming leftovers beyond their "safe date" increases the risk for foodborne illness.
Always refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible following preparation, making sure that they don't stay at room temperature for more than 2 hours. (This time limit drops to 1 hour in hot weather.) In addition, ensure that your refrigerator is set below 40 Fahrenheit; otherwise bacteria can multiply quickly in your next meal! Label each container with the date so that you don't forget when a certain item was prepared, and always throw it out if there is any question concerning its safety. It's better to be safe than sorry and sick! If you choose to use leftovers for sack lunches, take special care during transport. Utilize insulated lunch bags and cool packs and, if available, put the food in your refrigerator at work immediately upon arrival.
The refrigerator lifespan of leftovers varies depending on the type of food. Refer to the table below for guidance in specific foods.
Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology. She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.