Leftovers make up a not insignificant part of our meal planning and diets. Last night’s leftovers become today’s lunch. Or they are incorporated into another dinner later in the week. Not only is using leftovers an economical way to use food and avoid waste, but using leftovers is a convenient way to save time when you are preparing the next meal.
Knowing how to safely store leftovers can be confusing. Some food is prone to spoiling very fast, while other food can last a long time when properly stored. The food may look and smell fine for eating, but you cannot observe the dangerous bacteria that may be on it. In general, the most harmful bacteria tend to grow more on protein-rich foods like meat, fish, and eggs, than on starchy, sugary foods like rice and potatoes.
Here are some ways to help you keep your cooked leftovers fresh and safe to eat.
Plan to Eat Leftovers Soon
If you do not plan to consume your leftovers within a few days, store them in the freezer. They have a longer shelf life in the freezer than they have in the fridge.
Discard any meats left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, but if the temperature was above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 ºC), it needs to be discarded after one hour.
Cooked leftovers should be kept refrigerated and consumed or frozen within four days according to FDA guidelines. Always reheat them to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73.9 °C). To reheat them, use an oven, stovetop, or microwave, but not a slow-cooker.
After four days of storage, bacteria begins to grow on food. Food poisoning is caused by harmful bacteria, and it becomes a serious risk after four days. If you’re unsure whether food is safe to eat, look for any signs of a sour smell or slightly slimy texture. If you find any of these traits, discard the food without tasting it first. If you are still uncertain, the safest thing to do is to throw it out.
The four-day time frame is a good guideline issued by the FDA. However, some food can last longer than four days, and some will not be safe after just three days. Foods with high acidity, like tomato-based sauces, can remain safe up to a week in the fridge because they have lower pH levels and are thus less hospitable for bacteria growth.
In contrast, foods with high pH levels and high amounts of moisture, like fish, eggs, and cooked meat, will spoil quickly. These foods can only last up to three days in the fridge. Meat gravy and stuffing becomes unsafe to eat after just two days in the fridge. Freezing these foods is the safer way to store them for later consumption.
Frozen vs. Refrigerated
Keeping leftovers in the fridge will slow bacteria growth, but it will not stop it. Bacteria grow fastest between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It multiplies very fast at room temperature, which is around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Most refrigerators are kept at 40 degrees or lower, so keeping food in the fridge will effectively slow bacteria growth. Be sure to check your fridge. Make sure it is working correctly and maintaining a temperature of 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Freezers are kept at temperatures below 32 degrees, so freezing food will actually stop bacteria growth. As a result, storing leftovers in the freezer is the way to keep them for up to three or four months, or longer in some cases. However, not all food freezes well.
Pack Leftovers in Airtight Containers
Prolong the shelf life of your leftovers by storing them in airtight containers. Tightly sealed containers will keep excess moisture, bacteria, and other contaminants off the food.
Divide your hot leftovers into smaller portions and put them in shallow dishes to help them cool quickly. When the food is no longer steaming, store it in clean food-storage containers with lids that seal tightly.
Keep up with the leftovers you have stored in your fridge. Try labeling the containers with the contents and the date they were prepared.
Versatility of Bento Boxes
A bento box can help you get the most out of your leftovers while saving you lots of time. Assemble leftovers in your bento box for the next day’s lunch, seal it, and keep it in the fridge overnight. It will keep the food fresh and safe until you are ready to consume it.
Some bento boxes are available with an antibacterial silver ion coating, which is designed to keep your food safer for longer. You can also try using antibacterial bento sheets that are designed to be placed on top of the food. These products should not be a substitute for safe food handling processes, but they may come in handy in a pinch.
Order a Small or Large Bento Box Today
A bento box may be the best solution for storing and using your cooked leftovers. You can get a beautifully made bento box from Kanovou in a small or large size, with multiple compartments and other features that suit your personal style. See our variety of bento boxes here and place an order today!