February 2023

· 2 min read

Foodstuffs: How To Store and Heat Leftovers Safely

Do you know the secret ingredient to avoiding bacteria and foodborne illness in leftovers? Our experts offer tips for how to store and reheat leftovers safely.
A beautiful young woman takes out food from the fridge - 3 Tips on How to Store and Reheat Leftovers Safely | NSF

At a time when many of us are super focused on eating green and not wasting food, leftovers are getting top billing in culinary circles. The secret ingredient to avoiding bacteria and foodborne illness — and stretching out that homemade soup you made or Sunday’s chicken dinner — is understanding how to store and reheat leftovers safely.

Our NSF experts work on the front lines in kitchens big and small worldwide and are on top of all things related to healthy foodstuffs. Here they share some key food safety tips, from wrapping up leftovers to reheating them after they are frozen:

  1. 1

    Be Cool

    To prevent bacterial growth, make sure you cool food rapidly, because the longer it takes to cool, the greater the risk of inviting foodborne illness. The best way is to divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. Cut meats into slices or smaller portions. Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or rapidly chilled in an ice- or cold-water bath before refrigerating. Perishable cooked foods should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours of being cooked, or one hour on very hot days (over 90° F or 32.2° C).

  2. 2

    It’s a Wrap

    Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging or seal them in storage containers. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.

  3. 3

    Practice the “Timely Threes” Rule

    Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days or frozen for three to four months. Frozen whole meat cuts (chops, roasts, etc.) thawed in the refrigerator should be cooked within three to five days after being taken out of the freezer. Frozen ground meat thawed in the refrigerator should be cooked as soon as it is thawed. Meat thawed in cold water or the microwave should be cooked immediately.

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