FAQs on Leftovers

Should Hot Food Go into the Fridge?

Hot FoodCooking for a crowd?  Then chances are, you’re planning to prepare some hot dishes a day or two in advance.  Then, you may ask yourself, can my casserole go right from the oven into the fridge, or is that a bad idea?  This quandary actually poses 3 questions: 

 

1) Will hot food damage my refrigerator?

 

2) Will adding hot food harm my already refrigerated food? 

 

3) Will immediate refrigeration be bad for the hot food?  We asked two members of our Advisory Board, Dr. Timothy Bowser, a food process engineer, and Dr. Karin Allen, a food scientist, to provide the answers.

How long can I keep refrigerated leftovers?

Leftover Food scientist Susan Brewer offers the following advice: the amount of time which leftovers are safe and/or of good quality depends on the leftovers.

 

Mixed dishes which contain (cooked) animal products (such as meat, milk, and eggs) tend to have the shortest shelf life both for quality and safety reasons. They may have originally had pathogenic bacteria associated with them. If cooking didn’t kill every single one, the bacteria can grow (slowly), making the product unsafe. Three days is the standard length of time recommended for these products.

FAQ about Pasta Sauce—How Long Dare I Keep the Open Jar?

Pasta SaucePasta sauce is perhaps the quintessential “How long will it keep?” product.  If you’re cooking for a small household—1-3 diners—you’re not likely to polish off a large jar at one meal, and it’s hard to find a small jar on store shelves. Therefore, you may regularly find yourself left with half a jar. But how soon are you going to want pasta again?  You put the remainder in your fridge, and, before you know it, ten days have passed. Now what?  Is it still good?  Would it be obvious if it weren't?  Can pasta sauce turn dangerous?  Probably not, you think. On the other hand, it probably won’t taste too good anymore, so maybe it should be tossed. But, then again, it would be a pity to waste a half jar.  And round and round you go.

FAQs on Reheating Food: Pizza, Chicken, and Everything Else

PizzaLet’s begin with some general advice from food safety experts about reheating perishable foods:

 

-Be sure to reheat leftovers to 165°F.

 

-Reheat them only once.

 

-Don’t reheat cooked food that’s been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.  Just feed it to the garbage can. 

 

Of course, the three rules listed above are all designed to protect you from the growth of harmful pathogens and the risk of food-borne illness.  However, chances are (if you’re like most people) you’ve broken all of these rules more than once. The following FAQs, answered by 4 scientists on our site’s Advisory Board, will help you understand the science behind these rules and offer tips on handling perishable leftovers safely.

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