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How Long Do Leftovers Really Last?
5 Commandments For Storing Food Safely
Storing food is a fantastic way to get ourselves organised for the week. Moreover, storing items such as fermented foods are a fantastic way to promote gut health and increase our overall wellbeing. There are many common risks associated with storing food that can pose some pretty serious health risks. In order for your household to remain happy and healthy, we’ve collated the 5 commandments that you need to follow when storing food safely to answer that popular question: how long does leftovers really last?
1. Promptly refrigerate leftovers
This may come as a surprise, but illness-causing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours unless you appropriately refrigerate them. If the outside temperature is above 32 degrees celsius, then that time is cut down to one hour, yikes. Bacteria spreads fastest at between temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius; so most climates on Earth! Therefore, it’s paramount that you chill your food as soon as possible to reduce the risk of food borne illness.
2. Know when to throw food out
All food has a shelf life. You can’t tell just by looking or smelling your leftover stir fry whether harmful bacteria has started growing.
Here are a few steps you can take to store and reheat your leftovers safely:
- Always store your leftovers in shallow, sealable containers or use machines like vacuum sealers. Refrigerate (that means 4 degrees Celsius or below) or freeze cooked poultry within two hours of cooking
- Use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days, and use frozen food within four months
- Find out how long to store leftovers by checking out this Safe Storage Times chart
3. Reheat leftovers thoroughly
When you want to heat up last night’s dinner, make sure that it reaches at least 74 degrees Celsius. If necessary, use a food thermometer to check the temperature of the food straight after reheating.
Some key rules to follow:
- When reheating sauces and soups, make sure to bring them to a boil on the stove
- If you’re reheating refrigerated leftover meals in the oven, always cover them with foil. Not only does this mean your food retains moisture, but it will ensure that your food is reheated all the way through
- Always be sure to thaw frozen foods in the fridge or in a microwave on the appropriate setting. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 74 degrees Celsius, and measure with a food thermometer if need be.
4. Safe and unsafe temperatures
Temperatures between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius are not called the ‘danger zone’ for no reason. Foods left in this range are a breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria. To prevent this, perishable food should be stored at or below 5 degrees Celsius.
As well as this, it’s vital to be wary of correct cooking temperatures, especially for meats and poultry. As a general guideline, the temperature of all parts of minced, rolled or stuffed meats should reach at least 75 degrees Celsius during cooking. With poultry, ensure that you cook the meat until the juices run clear when pierced at the thickest point (such as the middle of drumstick).
If food is wanted to be served hot for some time after cooking, it should be held at above 60 degrees Celsius. Conversely, if the food is to be stored straight after cooking, make sure it is refrigerated immediately.
5. Thawing leftovers
There are different ways that you can thaw your food, but all of them need to be treated with care. For example, last week’s casserole can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave. Although thawing in the fridge is the safest way to de-freeze leftovers, it is unfortunately the slowest.
When thawing leftovers in cold water, place them in a leak-proof packaging such as a sealable plastic bag to prevent food from becoming contaminated from the air, water or surrounding environment. Change the water every 30 minutes to speed up thawing.
In summation, no matter what method you use to thaw or reheat your food, make sure that the leftovers reach an internal temperature of 74 degrees Celsius before they are served. As well as this, be sure to always store your food appropriately, and throw anything out that is out of date. It’s just not worth the risk!