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
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See more Expert Answers
- Basics for handling food safely. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/basics-for-handling-food-safely/ct_index. Accessed July 10, 2018.
- Foodborne illness: What consumers need to know. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/foodborne-illness-and-disease/foodborne-illness-what-consumers-need-to-know/ct_index. Accessed July 10, 2018.
- Food safety counts! U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/92d931d0-adc8-49b5-a335-5d729bfdda9e/Food_Safety_Counts.pdf?MOD=AJPERES. Accessed July 10, 2018.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines-americans. Accessed July 10, 2018.
- Slow cookers and food safety. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/appliances-and-thermometers/slow-cookers-and-food-safety/ct_index. Accessed July 10, 2018.