Proper Storage Of Leftovers

Leftovers save time, money, and are convenient to have on hand.

In the search for convenience, many families have made a habit of dining out and taking their leftover food home. When dining at home, people often cook more food then they plan to eat, and save the leftovers to eat another day. Other families with busy schedules often cook one meal and reheat it several times a night as different family members arrive from their work and activities. And although the practice of eating leftovers saves time and money, if leftovers are not stored properly, they can lead to food borne illnesses.

The safe storage of leftover food begins with the refrigerator. First, it must be cold enough, set at slightly less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The danger zone for bacterial growth is from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so remember to set your refrigerator lower than this.

Secondly, your refrigerator must be organized. If at all possible, designate a certain shelf or area of the fridge for leftovers, especially if they are commonly enjoyed in your family. By reserving an area for leftovers, it lessens the chance of the leftovers getting moved behind something else in the refrigerator and spoiling before they have a chance to be eaten. You can also eliminate the chance of forgetting the leftovers by choosing clear storage containers for your leftovers and making a habit of labeling them with a date and what is inside.

Leftover foods, from your own kitchen or a restaurant, should be stored in the refrigerator within two hours from the time they were originally served. If the weather is hot (above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) it is best to refrigerate your leftovers within an hour of cooking. The hotter the weather, the faster bacteria will grow. Some individuals leave food out on a counter until it cools completely, believing that it will harm their refrigerator to put something hot in it. However, the refrigerators of today are specifically designed to cool food off quickly and keep it safe.

Store foods in shallow containers that are two inches deep or less. Food stored in a deeper container takes longer to cool off and therefore invites bacteria to grow. Divide food into smaller portions to store, and freeze whatever you don�t think you will eat again within three days.

Most leftover foods should be consumed within three to four days. Gravies and sauces should be eaten no more than two days after they were first prepared. If you store uncooked meat in your refrigerator, use it within two days of having been thawed or purchased. When reheating your leftovers, make sure they are heated thoroughly to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which is determined most easily by a meat thermometer.

Proper food storage is important because it reduces the chance of food borne illness. Often referred to as food poisoning, food borne illness occurs most often in cases when food is improperly prepared or is left unrefrigerated for an unsafe amount of time. Symptoms of food poisoning are similar to the flu, including vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, and dizziness. If you suspect you may have a food borne illness, it is wise to seek medical attention. Additionally, if you became sick after eating a meal at a social function such as a picnic, it is wise to contact other people who attended to see if they are also sick. If you become ill after eating at a restaurant, contact the manager to let them know you feel there may have been unsafe food served.

A simple rule to remember is that if you have any doubt whether your leftover food is still good, throw it out. Do not taste food you are unsure of because even a small amount of bacteria can make you sick. When dealing with leftover foods, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

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