How Long are Leftovers Good for in the Fridge?
If you want the short answer, not very long at all – about 3-4 days is a good rule. Once your hot meal sits out for long enough to cool down, it’s already starting the countdown to bacteria growth. Bacteria grows more quickly at room temperature. Your best bet is to refrigerate right away.
Even when you refrigerate right away, there aren’t any strict guidelines for the number of days a certain dish will last. Check the food over before using it. Smell it. If it smells strange, then throw it out. Look it over. If there are spots on it (usually white or black) and it’s not seasoning, then toss it.
To avoid having too many leftovers in the fridge, use up all you have before cooking and buying more. Sometimes a little of this and a little of that can be a good meal.
Also take into consideration food hygiene and this list of biggest dangers and ways to prevent food borne illness.
Biggest Dangers to be Aware of:
- Foods made with mayonnaise & other egg based dishes. That potato salad left over from the cookout is likely very dangerous to eat, even the next day.
- Meat.Veggies will last longer, but meat should be put in the refrigerator immediately and consumed within 1 to 3 days max.
- Food that has been sitting out for more than two hours or food that has been out for even one hour in 90+ degree weather.
Ways to Prevent Food Borne Illness:
- Freeze it. Right away.
- Make sure you safely reheat it. This means it must reach 160 degrees throughout. A microwave may not do the trick since they tend to cook unevenly. Use a stove or oven whenever possible.
- If you’re not sure how long it’s been in the fridge, don’t bother.
- Avoid cross contamination by keeping your fridge clean (no moldy science experiments) and keeping left overs away from raw meat packages.
- For large amounts of leftovers, like Chinese containers, you should store them in several small shallow containers. If you use a large container, there’s a chance that the middle won’t cool correctly and bacteria will begin to grow.
- Reheat only once. If you have a large portion of chili in the fridge. Don’t reheat the whole container unless you plan on eating all of it. Once you’ve reheated it, it shouldn’t go back into the fridge.
- Label it. Decide when your cut off day is and mark the leftover package. Stick to it and throw it away after the date.
In general, things can last 3 days. If they go 4 days, then you’re pushing it. Always use a container with a tight lid or make sure the food is completely sealed in plastic wrap. If you don’t think you’re going to eat it soon, then freeze the food.
You can be creative with some leftovers and turn last night’s meal into sandwiches the next day. A smell test of leftovers is good. If it smells at all bad, then throw it. Better safe than sorry.