How long leftovers last


Leftovers can be a great way to save time and money. They provide convenient, easy and potentially healthy meals with minimal effort. But when it comes to storing leftovers safely, knowing how long you should keep them is essential. The general rule is that cooked leftovers should be eaten within three to four days, but there are exceptions that require special attention.

To help you decide whether eating your leftovers is safe, this guide outlines the safe storage lengths for a variety of common foods and provides tips for proper refrigeration and reheating guidelines. Read on to learn how long leftovers last and ultimately enjoy the convenience that comes with having cooked meals ready-made!

Storage and Refrigeration

Knowing how to store and refrigerate leftovers correctly is essential for keeping food safe and preventing food-borne illnesses. It is important to be aware of the correct temperatures for both refrigeration and freezing, as well as the types of containers that should be used.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the best practices for storing and refrigerating leftovers:

Refrigerator Storage

Refrigerator storage is the best way to make sure that leftovers stay fresh and safe to eat. It’s important to store foods correctly in the refrigerator, as temperatures between 4°C (40°F) and -4°C (25°F) are optimal for keeping food safe.

Packing leftovers properly is also essential for ensuring food safety; always use airtight containers or resealable plastic bags and put them on a lower shelf in the fridge away from raw meat, poultry and seafood. When packing leftovers, make sure they are chilled as soon as possible so they don’t rise above 40°F.

The length of time items can be stored in the fridge really depends on what type of food it is. Generally, most cooked dishes will keep three to four days in the refrigerator while cooked meats can last anywhere between three to five days. If you’re planning on keeping something longer than that, you’re better off freezing it instead.

Freezer Storage

Once food has been cooked, it can be safely stored in the freezer for up to one month to maintain its flavor, texture, and nutrition. It’s important to make sure the food is properly packaged when going into the freezer so that no air or moisture penetrates and accelerates the food’s deterioration.

Properly wrapped leftovers should be cooled to room temperature before being frozen. This will reduce the amount of time needed by the freezer to completely chill the food, reducing chances for spoilage during storage. Once cooled and refrigerated below 40o F., properly prepared leftovers can remain safe and flavorful for up to four days in a standard refrigerator-freezer unit.

When freezing leftovers, particularly items like cooked meats which can develop freezer burn if not covered adequately, it’s important to use:

  • heavy duty wrap or storage bags intended specifically for freezing purposes in order to prevent moisture and oxygen exchange between stored foods and their environment.
  • Freezer-safe bags can also be labeled with date of storage for easy tracking of expiration dates.

Foods need not be thawed before heating in a microwave oven; microwaves are able to penetrate through dry wrapping materials like plastic wrap or parchment paper directly into frozen foods during cooking cycles.


Reheating leftovers can be a great way to save yourself time and money. However, it is important to understand the correct and safe way to reheat your leftovers. Knowing when it is time to toss out that food can also be essential to staying healthy and safe.

Let’s explore the reheating process, how to know what food is safe to eat, and when to let go of those leftovers:

Microwave Reheating

It is important to properly store and reheat foods to prevent bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. If you plan to reheat food in the microwave, it should be done so quickly and evenly. Make sure to cover leftovers with a microwave-safe lid or wrap them in a damp paper towel.

When using the microwave, follow these tips:

  • Place food on a plate or in a shallow container.
  • Make sure the food is spread out and not heaped up too high; this will help ensure it reheats evenly.
  • Stir the food occasionally throughout cooking.
  • Don’t overcrowd or overload your microwave – cook smaller amounts at a time for even heating.
  • Allow some room for steam to circulate around the container or plate – this will help keep moisture from escaping from the heated food and drying it out prematurely.
  • Use a timer – overheating can cause dryness, especially if you have set it on high power for too long.

Always check that your leftovers are cooked all the way through before eating them and remember to store leftovers properly in the fridge for maximum safety!

Stovetop Reheating

Reheating leftovers on the stovetop is a fast and easy method for bringing your food back to life. It is especially suitable for reheating tender meat, such as steak, chicken or fish. To do this safely, you’ll need a pot or pan that the food fits in snugly, a lid, spatula and some heat-safe plates to put the food on.

Follow these steps to ensure your food reheats quickly and safely:

  1. Prepare your ingredients. If reheating multiple items separate them onto two plates so they can cook evenly. For example, if reheating steak and vegetables, place steak on one plate and vegetables on another
  2. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat until it melts completely
  3. Add the food to the skillet one plate at a time and cover with a lid
  4. Reheat each plate for 3–5 minutes until steaming hot throughout
  5. Use a spoon to stir starchy foods like potatoes occasionally while reheating
  6. If possible use an internal thermometer to check the temperature of meats once they have been heated through – if it reads 75°C (165°F) it’s ready for serving
  7. Serve with caution as even once heated through hot spots may still exist in some dishes

Food Safety

Keeping food safe is always a priority, especially when it comes to leftovers. Knowing how long leftovers last and when they should be binned is an important part of keeping you and your family safe. Different types of food can last for different lengths of time, and there are a few important factors to consider when trying to figure out how long leftovers last. Let’s take a look:

Temperature Guidelines

Temperature control is an important part of food safety. There are two temperature ranges to consider: cold and hot temperatures.

Cold Temperatures: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a refrigerator temperature of 40°F or lower and a freezer temperature at 0°F or lower. Refrigerated and frozen leftovers should be stored for no longer than three to four days, depending on the item. Freezing does not make food safe—it only helps to preserve it from spoilage, so food should still be stored safely before going in the freezer.

Hot Temperatures: To prevent bacteria from growing on foods, the USDA recommends that cooked food items stay hot until served, with an internal temperature that exceeds 140°F (60°C). Food should not sit in the “danger zone”—between 40° and 140°F (4°C to 60°C) for more than two hours; after this point, bacteria can begin to multiply quickly. When reheating leftovers, the internal temperature must reach 165°F (74˚C), as recommended by the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC).

Color and Smell Tests

Checking food for spoilage is an important part of food safety. If a food is spoiled, it can make you very ill, so it’s important to know how to tell if your leftovers are safe to eat or not. Two of the easiest tests for spotting spoiled foods are the color and smell tests.

  • When checking for color change, look for indications that the food has become darker in shade or has developed an off color. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb not to reheat any foods that have changed color significantly from their original state.
  • When using your nose to detect spoilage in food, any strong odors should be cause for alarm and should lead you to throw out the leftover dish immediately – especially if the smell has a sulfur-like quality or is suspiciously similar to rotten eggs. Food that passes the smell test may still have off flavors and should be thrown out as a precaution before consuming it.

Leftovers Storage Guidelines

Leftovers are a great way to save time and money. But, they can quickly become unsafe if they are left in the fridge too long. Knowing how to properly store and keep track of leftovers is essential to keep them safe to consume.

In this article, we’ll discuss guidelines to safely store leftovers and how long leftovers are safe to eat:

Refrigerator Storage Guidelines

When storing leftovers in the refrigerator, it is important to follow proper food safety guidelines. Food should be placed in airtight containers or resealable bags and labeled with the date so you know how long you can store them.

Most cooked foods will keep in your refrigerator for up to four days. That includes meats, poultry, fish, eggs and egg dishes, casseroles, cooked pasta and other starch-based dishes, soups, sandwiches and salads. Leftover pizza should be consumed within two days of refrigeration. Hardier fruits and vegetables can last a few days longer – up to seven – but should still be watched for spoilage.

To make sure your leftovers stay safe longer, keep the temperature of your refrigerator at 40°F or below. This not only keeps bacteria from growing on your food but helps to preserve its flavor and texture as well.

Uncooked foods such as fresh meat, poultry or fish can last a few days stored in the refrigerator before needing to be cooked or discarded – typically one to three days for most chicken products and two to four days for beef products (five for ground beef). Additionally, all cut fruits and vegetables should also be consumed within three to five days after purchasing.

Freezer Storage Guidelines

Safely storing food in the freezer is essential for preserving its nutritive value, flavor, and texture. Although the specific foods vary, it is a general rule that leftovers can be kept frozen for 3-4 months. It is not advisable to keep food stored in the freezer for longer than this timeframe as its quality starts to deteriorate over time.

Below are some helpful guidelines on how to complete safe home food freezing:

  • Date all packages with the current date.
  • Before freezing, cool food quickly by setting dishes in ice or cold water then draining them before putting them in airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags.
  • Freeze items at 0° F (-18°C).
  • Place smaller portions of chopped items into an ice cube tray and freeze first; then store cubes in an airtight bag or container marked with the item’s name and date.
  • Make sure to leave 1/2 (1cm) gap between packages when they are stored so cold air can circulate freely around each package.
  • Airtight sealers are great for preserving quality of frozen foods such as vegetables & meats during long-term storage by removing all oxygen from around a package of food and creating an impenetrable barrier against moisture & microorganisms that weaken flavor, color and texture. Using them will help maximize the shelf life of your items up to three years!


In conclusion, there are some general guidelines for how long leftovers can safely be stored. However, it is important to also use your own judgement and understanding of food safety to determine when leftovers should be thrown away.

Generally, non-perishable and cooked food that has been handled and stored properly can last for up to five days in the refrigerator. If you notice any suspicious signs such as mold, strong odors or discoloration, discard the food immediately.

Always remember to use caution when dealing with leftovers and consider their age whenever you are about to consume them.

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