Food Handling Safety: Leftovers

No one wants to waste food, but no one wants to get sick on improperly held leftovers either. This article discusses ways to reduce waste and safely store leftovers.

No one wants to waste food, but no one wants to get sick on improperly held leftovers either. Leftovers and waste can be reduced by carefully calculating the number and sizes of portions. However, it is often easier and more efficient to prepare ingredients used in many dishes at one time. The leftovers from bulk preparation must be properly stored to reduce waste and contamination.

Food that is held in storage, even in the refrigerator, can spoil if it is held too long. Follow these rules for storing, rotating, and throwing away leftovers:

-Keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 60 degrees Celsius)as much as possible. Cool leftovers to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) in no more than four hours.

-Store food in the correct size containers. Too much air space will encourage the growth of bacteria. If the container is too small, the cover may not fit tightly, and this can also cause contamination.

-Cooked food should be reheated, frozen, or refrigerated within two hours after cooking. In hot weather, this should be done within one hour after cooking.

-Wash your hands before handling cooked food and make sure the containers that you will store leftovers in are clean.

-Tightly cover or wrap all leftovers.

-Date and label leftovers.

-Rotate leftovers so that the oldest leftovers are in the front of the storage area (your refrigerator, cupboard, etc.) Always use oldest leftovers first.

-Throw away any undated leftovers or ones you are unsure of how old they are.

-Remove any stuffing from cooked poultry and store it in a separate container.

Some people who have lots of leftovers use a color code to date, store, and rotate leftover food. A color is assigned to each day of the week, and food stored on a particular day is marked with the corresponding color. For example:

Sunday: Blue

Monday: Purple

Tuesday: Orange

Wednesday: Yellow

Thursday: Red

Friday: Green

Saturday: Brown

Food stored on Wednesday would be marked with yellow and then all food marked with yellow would be thrown out on Saturday. This system helps make sure that the first food prepared is the first food used, and it limits food waste. It also helps you have a quick visual reminder of when food needs to be used just by looking in the refrigerator.

When reheating leftovers, make sure you completely reheat the food and not just warm it up. Foods should either be brought to a boil or heated to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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