Let’s talk food safety for leftovers.
People stress me out when they try to prep everything for the week all on one day. I encourage prepping some of the ingredients, but you don’t want to lose the quality of the meal and more importantly it can be unsafe. Food safety for leftovers is key to successfully meal prepping and planning.
It’s important to remember food safety when storing leftovers and meal prepping! Depending on the type of food, leftovers can usually be kept for three to four days in the refrigerator or three to four months in the freezer. Be sure to eat them within that time. After that, the risk of food poisoning increases. For example, I usually do my frittatas before the week starts and half way through switch over to some overnight oats that I can prep on a weeknight. If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat leftovers within four days, put them in the freezer.
Harmful germs, such as bacteria and viruses in contaminated food, can cause food poisoning. Bacteria can be sneaky because it doesn’t have to change the taste, smell or look of food, so it’s not always possible to detect. If you’re in doubt about a food’s safety, it’s best to throw it out. Don’t question it, yuck!
Fortunately, most cases of food poisoning can be prevented with proper cooking, a clean environment and by washing your hands. Temperature is also super important. Your goal is to reduce the time your food is in the “danger zone” which is between 40 and 140 F. This temperature range is where bacteria can grow and thrive!
When you are ready to eat leftovers, reheat them on the stove or in a conventional oven or microwave until the internal temperature reaches 165 F.
Everyone needs a Food Thermometer!
Tips for Food Safety:
Wrap Leftovers Well
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.
Reducing air exposure is key to preventing freezer burn and maintaining the foods’ appearance and quality. So, it’s important to use heavy duty, freezer grade products. Regular plastic wrap and original food packaging may be air permeable and won’t protect against dehydration well.
I vacuum pack fresh fish and sometimes other ingredients that need to be kept as fresh as possible!
Thaw Frozen Leftovers Safely
Safe ways to thaw leftovers include the refrigerator, cold water and the microwave oven. Refrigerator thawing takes the longest but the leftovers stay safe the entire time. After thawing, the food should be used within 3 to 4 days or can be refrozen.
Cold water thawing is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The frozen leftovers must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, water can get into the food and bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could enter it. Foods thawed by the cold-water method should be cooked before refreezing.
Microwave thawing is the fastest method. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Foods thawed in the microwave can be refrozen after heating it to this safe temperature.
Other considerations for leftover food safety:
- Chill the food completely in the refrigerator before freezing. This prevent freezer burn.
- Label and date your food. This is so important!! Especially with meats, it’s easy for me to forget when they were hunted/caught or to mix things up.
- Freeze in smaller portions when possible. This way you don’t have to refreeze the other portions.
- Reorganize your freezer often to see what you have on hand, use up meals and to prevent from overloading the compartments preventing good airflow.
Food Safety Resources:
Chart created by the U.S Food and Drug Administration
Great course for food safety education: ServSafe
Check out some more tips on meal prepping on the RDRx Nutrition blog!