Limits to Leftovers

In an effort to economize and stretch every dollar, consumers are preparing more food at home and saving leftovers.  Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded within 3 to 4 days.

When heating and storing leftovers keep the following in mind:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Refrigerate cooked leftovers promptly - within 2 hours.  Use an appliance thermometer to ensure your refrigerator is at 40° F or below.
  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator.
  • Reheat cooked leftovers to 165° F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • When microwaving leftovers, make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive).  Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.

Buying food in bulk can be a money-saver.  Remember, whatever the quantity of food – safe handling is a must!  Large packages of perishables like raw ground meat and poultry products can be refrigerated for 1-2 days, but then the food should be cooked or put in the freezer.

Temperature and time cause bacteria to grow which is why it is so important your refrigerator be cold enough and you not keep leftovers too long. There is a limit to how long food can be safely kept!

A cold hold storage chart is available from USDAs Food Safety and Inspection Web site. More information is available at

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