How to Safely Handle Leftover Meals

Many families enjoy eating leftovers from dinners and dining out as a time-saving and budget-friendly meal. It is important to remember that leftovers need to be properly handled to help reduce the risk of food borne illness. Illness can be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

Handling leftovers

  • Wash your hands before and after handling leftovers. Wash all utensils, dishes and work surfaces with hot soapy water.
  • Keep foods out of the danger zone, between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Throw away any cooked food left in the danger zone for more than two hours.
  • Never rely on your nose, eyes or taste buds to judge the safety of food. You cannot tell if food is contaminated by its look, smell or taste. When in doubt, throw it out!


Cooling leftovers

  • Refrigerate or freeze all leftovers within two hours to minimize the chance of bacteria growing.
  • Refrigerate all hot leftovers promptly in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly.
  • Very hot items can first be cooled at room temperature and then refrigerated once the steaming stops.
  • Leave the lid off or wrap loosely until the food is cooled to refrigeration temperature.


Storing leftovers

  • Always use a clean container or leak-proof plastic bag to store leftovers.
  • Meat from large cooked birds should be cut, deboned and stored refrigerated or frozen for safety.
  • Keep different types of leftovers separate to prevent cross contamination.
  • Don't overstock the refrigerator - allow cool air to circulate freely.
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 4 days, or freeze them for later use. The recommended refrigeration times may vary slightly, depending on the food. Follow these guidelines to be safe.
  • Label the leftovers so you can identify the contents and include the date, to make sure they aren't stored too long.


Defrosting leftovers

  • Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or using the "defrost" setting on your microwave. Make sure leftovers are completely defrosted before reheating.
  • Consume or cook the leftovers immediately after they have thawed.


Reheating leftovers

  • When reheating leftovers, cook to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Use a digital food thermometer to check the internal temperature.
  • Bring gravies, soups and sauces to a full, rolling boil and stir during the process.
  • Discard uneaten leftovers after they have been reheated – don't reheat leftovers more than once.


Reheating in a microwave

  • Use only containers or plastic wrap designed for use in the microwave.
  • Loosen the lid or wrap to allow steam to escape.
  • Stop the microwave midway through reheating and stir the food so that the heat is evenly distributed. Rotate the plate several times during cooking if your microwave does not have a rotating tray.


Source: Health Canada 


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