You've surely had leftover food as a home cook at some point or another. Perhaps you prepared too much food or had a large gathering and had a ton of leftovers. But what do you do with them? How long are leftovers good for?
By- Reviewed . Published Apr 7, 2023.
How to handle leftovers
There are a few essential considerations to make when it comes to leftovers and avoiding the risk of food poisoning. First and foremost, it's crucial to refrigerate them quickly.
The FDA recommends that food be refrigerated within two hours of cooking or within one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F (32 °C). To encourage quick and consistent cooling, leftovers should be stored in shallow, airtight storage containers.
To track how long your leftovers have been in the refrigerator, label them with the date you put them there.
Reheating them to a safe temperature that would kill harmful bacteria is also essential. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) advises reheating them to an internal temperature of 165 °F (74 °C), measured with the help of a food thermometer. Make sure the dish is heated through completely without any cold spots.
It is critical to understand when to discard them. Cooked leftovers should only be stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of four days, according to the USDA. Be cautious and toss out any leftovers that you aren't convinced are still safe to eat.
Depending on the type of food, keep in mind that its texture and flavor might change, affecting its taste. Just plan your recipes accounting for these changes. For instance, vegetables will likely lose their firmness, so they are best used as ingredients rather than the main component of your new dish.
How long do leftovers last in the fridge?
In general, leftovers last up to four days in the refrigerator. But, depending on the dish, this may vary. Cooked rice, for instance, can only be kept in the refrigerator for three days, whereas cooked chicken can be kept there for up to four.
How long are leftovers good for from a restaurant?
The optimal time to consume leftovers from a restaurant order is within two to three days. It is better to err on the side of caution and toss the food if you are unsure of how long it has been in the refrigerator.
How long can you eat leftovers?
Reheated leftovers should only be done once, even though they can be kept in the fridge for up to four days. This means that you should discard any leftovers after reheating them rather than put them back in the refrigerator.
How to reuse the most common ingredients
- Rice: Rice is super versatile and can be used in a lot of dishes like fried rice, mixed with vegetables, as a side dish for soups and stews, croquettes, rice cakes, and desserts like rice pudding.
- Vegetables: Use leftover vegetables in combination with rice, salads, stir-fries, soups, omelets, dips, and spreads.
- Poultry, pork, and beef: Any protein can be used in sandwiches, tacos, nachos, pasta, salads, cooked with vegetables on stir fry, or fried rice, or they can be turned into dips and spreads. Meats can be shredded, chopped, or sliced to be added with other ingredients to make new dishes.
- Pasta leftovers: Toss it with oil, protein like salmon or chicken, and vegetables for pasta salads. Use it to make casseroles or add it to soups.
- Egg whites: If you have leftover raw egg whites, you can store them in the freezer to be used later. They can be used for up to 12 months after they have been frozen. If they've been refrigerated, they must be used within 5 to 7 days. Use them to make omelets, meringue, French macarons, mousses, souffles, and angel food cakes. Egg whites can also be used in cocktails like a whiskey sour to impart a frothy, silky texture. Cooked egg whites can be used as a topping for salads or a filling for sandwiches.
- Egg yolks: They last between 2 and 4 days refrigerated and up to 4 months frozen. If they are raw, you can use them to make custards, flans, puddings, mayonnaise, citrus curds, hollandaise sauce, homemade pasta, omelets, frittatas, cookies, and cakes. If they are cooked, you can use them as fillings for pasta, sandwiches, turnovers, dips, salsas, deviled eggs, and salads.
- Whole eggs: Make deviled eggs, egg salad, or potato salad and add them to minced or ground meat fillings, fried rice, or as filling for sandwiches.
- Bread: dry it and make homemade breadcrumbs; toast them to make croutons and mix them with custard to make bread pudding.
- French fries: Add them to eggs to make a Spanish tortilla. Mash them and mix them with onions and vegetables, cheese and eggs to make croquettes. Use them to fill samosas.
- Seafood: You must be careful because seafood is more prone to cause foodborne illness, so please be extra careful when handling these leftovers. Store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container within 2 hours after cooking. If it has been sitting at room temperature for over 2 hours, discard it. Leftover tuna can be used in salads, sandwiches, make a spread, or as a dip. Fish can be added to soups and stews or be used in rice bowls or tacos.
How long are these holidays meals good for, and how to reuse them?
There is always a ton of food left over for Thanksgiving, but you can reuse them in different ways. You can reuse the turkey in salads, sandwiches, and casseroles. You can toss it with vegetables and rice to make a stir-fry or rice bowls. Use the stuffing as a filling for casseroles, turnovers, or sandwiches.
Christmas Day is, in my opinion, Leftovers Day. Take the pork and make a delicious pork melt; it can be made with turkey or chicken if that's the protein you served. Use potato salad to make potato cakes, mix it with some flour, and pan-fried them. You can make sandwiches, pizza, salad toppings, dips, and spreads with ham. With either the turkey or the ham you can make an egg frittata.
Why use leftovers?
Leftovers are inevitable, so it's best to use them creatively to be less wasteful and to get all the value for the money you spent on food. You can plan your whole week based on the different dishes you can make with leftovers, making cooking fun, easy, delicious, and stress-free.
Recipes to reuse leftovers
- Make yellow rice with leftover white rice
- Make ground beef picadillo and save the leftovers
- Leftover rice is perfect for making chofán fried rice
- Use leftover day-old bread in this bread pudding
- Make a day-old bread casserole
- Reuse some leftover chicken roast to make a tasty chicken dip
- Make a colorful rice salad with a bit of leftover rice
By Tia Clara, published Apr 7, 2023 on