One of the easiest ways to acquire a foodborne illness is by not properly handling leftovers. There are a few age old rules that should always be applied whenever leftover food is in the picture. Here’a quick refresher:
When In Doubt Throw It Out!
What many people don’t realize is that when leftovers aren’t properly handled, they can pose a serious threat to your health. A general word to the wise is to throw away any food that is left uncovered for two hours or more. Why, you may ask? This is because harmful bacteria can seep into your food when left out between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a wide range! This goes to show that bacteria is constantly roaming in the air, and although you may think your food is fine given that it doesn’t smell, look different, or taste bad, it is more than likely contaminated and bacteria-infested if left out in the open. Moral of the story: When in doubt, throw it out.
One of the best tips that we can give when handling leftovers is to wash your hands and keep all your utensils and countertops sanitized. Cleanliness and proper handling are crucial to keeping your food safe. You will want to sort your food by type into clean containers, leak-proof plastic bags, or wrap in foil, so as to not cross-contaminate. Dividing your leftovers into several segments and placing in small containers helps the food to cool faster, thus discouraging bacterial growth. Our clear Rubbermaid food boxes are the perfect store-all & they are freezer-safe! One of our best tools for quickly cooling down bulk foods like chili and big stews/soups is the Rapi-Cool which helps cool food quickly from the inside out, thus making storage easier and more efficient.
Refrigerator & Freezer Storage:
If you plan on eating your leftovers in the near future, the refrigerator is where they should be stored, preferably on the bottom shelf to avoid any leaking or dripping to food underneath. You can put everything from cold dishes to hot sides or soups straight into the refrigerator; just remember to divide it up so that you get the temperature down fast. It is a general rule of thumb that most refrigerated leftovers should be consumed within 2-4 days, just to ensure freshness. One important factor many people don’t pay much attention to is the temperature within your refrigerator. You want to be sure your refrigerator is properly set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, as bacteria can make its way in if it is any warmer. Our precise refrigerator thermometers will help you ensure this safety measure.
If you know you aren’t going to eat your leftovers right away, your best bet is to freeze them, as this keeps everything bacteria-free and safe for an extended period of time. I was always taught to put a piece of tape on the container with the date so you can remember how long it’s been since the food has been stored away. Once you are ready to eat your frozen leftovers, make sure you defrost them in the refrigerator or the microwave- not on your counter or in room temperature! The crucial point is bringing the temperature down safely, and you can easily do this by using one of our food thermometers.
If you want to defrost your leftovers quickly, you can pop them into the microwave. It is always wise to cover the food loosely with plastic wrap when doing so to ensure a thorough heating process throughout the food. Use caution when uncovering as the steam can be very hot. Covering with plastic wrap helps ensure that any harmful bacteria is annihilated and the food is cooked all the way through. Next, let the food stand two minutes and using a clean food thermometer, make sure that the product has a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a good indicator that you are safe from harmful substances.
We hope this quick guide helped to answer some of your questions or simply refreshed your memory on how to properly handle leftovers and practice food safety. Bon Appétit!