How to Handle Your Leftovers
By Brandi Goodman
You may find your pans still full of food even after everyone in the household has eaten. It's great to have leftovers. It means you have enough food left for another meal for one or more people. This can make for a quick lunch choice the next day. The problem, however, is that many people aren't quite sure just what to do with leftovers in terms of proper storage and required duration for lasting. Learn how best to handle your leftovers to make the most of the food you have left after a meal.
Refrigerate Within 2 Hours
Food should never be left sitting out all day. It can be tempting to leave a meal sitting for a while so anyone can go back for more when they're ready. The problem with this is that bacteria can start to set in quickly. You need to have everything put away within 2 hours after turning off the heat or else you risk the chance of food poisoning.
Store in Airtight Containers
Never leave food in opened containers or wrap them loosely. You need to keep your leftovers stored in airtight containers or with tight wrapping around them. This prevents bacteria from getting inside and helps avoid contamination from other foods sitting inside the fridge.
Freeze Your Leftovers
If you don't plan on eating the food within three or four days -- which is the max amount of time most foods will keep in the fridge -- then you need to freeze them. Again, use an airtight storage method. You can usually keep food in the freezer for at least 3 months before it starts to lose its flavor and appeal. Some items may keep for even longer.
Reheat to a Certain Degree
Don't pull leftovers from the fridge or freezer and expect to simply heat them up for a quick 30 seconds in the microwave. You need to reheat your food to a certain degree -- usually 165 is recommended -- to ensure even heating throughout and safe eating. It's wise to use the stovetop, but a microwave will suffice if you make sure to turn the food over or mix it up in between so it heats up evenly.
There's actually a National Throw Out Your Leftovers Day, if you can believe it. It arrives near the end of November each year, perfect for having an excuse to toss the rest of the uneaten Thanksgiving food. You don't have to wait for a national observation to do the deed, though. It's wise to learn how best to handle the storage of leftovers and know how long foods are good if kept in the fridge. A few days is usually the best to go by if you're ever unsure. Your health and safety is of the utmost importance.
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