How long can you safely keep leftovers in the refrigerator?

Answer From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Leftovers can be kept for three to four 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.

Food poisoning — also called foodborne illness — is caused by harmful germs, such as bacteria in contaminated food. Because bacteria typically don't change the taste, smell or look of food, you can't tell whether a food is dangerous to eat. So if you're in doubt about a food's safety, it's best to throw it out.

Fortunately, most cases of food poisoning can be prevented with proper cooking and food handling. To practice food safety, quickly refrigerate perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. Don't let them sit more than two hours at typical room temperature or more than one hour at temperatures above 90 F (32 C).

Uncooked foods, such as cold salads or sandwiches, also should be eaten or refrigerated promptly. Your goal is to reduce the time a food is in the "danger zone" — between 40 and 140 F (4 and 60 C) — when bacteria can quickly multiply.

When you're ready to eat leftovers, reheat them on the stove or in a conventional oven or microwave until the internal temperature reaches 165 F (74 C). Slow cookers aren't recommended for reheating leftovers as these devices may not heat foods hot enough to kill bacteria.

Sept. 29, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. 5 tasty ways to tweak recipes for healthier eating
  2. A healthier take on a breakfast favorite
  3. A new way to enjoy fresh fruit
  4. A spoonful of sugar helps the veggies go down
  5. Add kick to fresh fruit
  6. Secrets of low-fat cooking
  7. An easy way to add omega-3
  8. Bake with less sugar
  9. Batch cooking for 1
  10. Beans and other legumes: Cooking tips
  11. Canned pumpkin
  12. Benefits of cooking at home
  13. Cooking dinner? Try these techniques
  14. Strategies to prepare and enjoy healthy meals at home more often
  15. Pantry basics for a gluten-free holiday
  16. E. coli and food safety
  17. Easy fish for four
  18. Fit more fruit into your diet
  19. Fit in more fruit with a smoothie
  20. Flip your burger
  21. Foodborne illness
  22. Get a fiber boost
  23. Gluten-free alternatives to wheat flour
  24. Grilled fruit? Try it!
  25. Healthier recipes? Delete 1 ingredient
  26. Healthy cooking for singles
  27. Healthy cooking for singles and couples
  28. Healthy cooking make-over
  29. Healthy eating: One step at a time
  30. Ingredient substitutions
  31. Healthy-cooking techniques
  32. Hold the soap when washing fruits and veggies
  33. How long are leftovers safe to eat?
  34. Include food safety in your party plans
  35. Ingredient substitutions that pack a punch
  36. Lentils: How do I cook with them?
  37. Mashed potatoes: Cut the fat
  38. Meatless meals
  39. Mold on your cheddar? Don't despair
  40. Moldy cheese
  41. Olive oil
  42. Put fish on the menu
  43. Quick fix: Acorn squash
  44. Quick fix: Bean salad
  45. Quick fix: Flatbread pizza
  46. Quick fix: Sauteed corn
  47. Quick lunch: Veggie pita pocket
  48. Recipe makeovers
  49. Safely reheat leftovers
  50. Salsa: Not just for chips anymore
  51. Simple steps to making fall soups
  52. Simple ways to cook healthier
  53. Vegetable recipes
  54. Fruit 5 ways
  55. Guide to gourmet salt
  56. Cooking fish
  57. Guide to beans and legumes
  58. Guide to herbs and spices
  59. Sodium: Smarten up
  60. Sweet endings: Poached peaches
  61. Take breakfast with you
  62. Cooking frozen turkey
  63. The right way to wash fruits and vegetables
  64. Top it off with fruit
  65. Try a new salad: Corn and barley
  66. Veggie how to: Grilled vegetable kebabs
  67. Want a healthy dessert? Grill fruit!
  68. Want healthier recipes? Swap ingredients!
  69. What are legumes, anyway?
  70. Cooking oil
  71. Whole grains for a healthy heart
  72. Whole grains
  73. Cook a perfect Thanksgiving dinner