Are you eyeing that Tupperware of turkey in the fridge, wondering if it’s safe for the taking? It’s not always obvious when leftovers are better off being tossed, or when they’re still okay to eat — so we put together this handy guide! Brush up on some food storage best practices with the five tips below, and then scan the chart to see how long your leftovers will safely last in the fridge.
5 Tips for Safer Leftovers
- Don’t let leftovers sit out too long. Freshly cooked foods are safe on the counter for about two hours. After that, conditions become ideal for bacteria to grow, making those leftovers less safe to eat. Give hot dishes a little time to cool down while you eat, but package them up and get them into the fridge soon after you finish your meal.
- Don’t forget the date. Unless your leftovers mark a memorable date like Thanksgiving, Christmas, a special birthday or anniversary, it can be hard to remember just when a food was first cooked. Before you stash that Tupperware in the fridge, slap on a sticky note with the date it was prepared so you don’t end up scarfing down a week-old piece of salmon by accident.
- Keep temps below 40 F. Most food-borne bacteria prefer warmer climates. To keep potentially dangerous bugs at bay, make sure leftovers are quickly cooled and kept at a temperature below 40 F — but ideally between 35–37 F if refrigerating.
- Reheat until hot, hot, hot. You may love cold pizza, but if it was left out for more than two hours before being refrigerated, you may want to pop it in the toaster oven for a few minutes first. Reheating leftovers to 165 F will kill most foodborne bacteria, making food safer to eat.
- If in doubt, throw it out. Don’t look to your senses to tell you whether a food is safe or not. Most foodborne bacteria don’t change the taste, smell, or look of food, which means that seemingly harmless-smelling fish casserole could lead to serious tummy trouble. Use the chart below as a guide to help you decide whether or not a food is safe to eat, or if it should be tossed.
Safe Leftovers Guide
|Meat, Poultry and Fish|
|Cooked meat (beef, lamb, pork and veal)||3–4 days|
|Cooked poultry (chicken, turkey, goose, etc.)||3–4 days|
|Cooked ham (slices)||3–4 days|
|Cooked ham (half)||3–5 days|
|Cooked ham (whole)||7 days|
|Cooked fish||3–4 days|
|Deli meat (opened)||3–5 days|
|Hard boiled eggs||7 days|
|Casseroles, quiches and omelets||3–4 days|
|Egg salad||3–4 days|
|Eggnog (homemade)||2–3 days|
|Eggnog (commercial)||3–5 days|
|Turkey, chicken, ham, tuna, potato and pasta salad||3–5 days|
|Leafy greens (undressed)||3–5 days|
|Leafy greens (dressed)||1–3 days|
|Fruit salad||3–5 days|
|Casseroles (stuffing, lasagna, pot pie, potato dishes, etc.)||3–4 days|
|Vegetables (roasted, sauteed, steamed, mashed, etc.)||3–4 days|
|Cooked Grains (rice, quinoa, millet, barley, pasta)||4–6 days|
|Soups, Stews and Gravy||3–4 days|
|Desserts (pies, custard, cakes, etc.)||2–4 days|