The cold facts: A guide to storing leftovers safely
When it comes to storing and using leftovers, most of us make mistakes from time to time. Mysterious unmarked containers are forgotten at the back of the freezer; leftovers go off in the fridge because we accept last-minute dinner invitations. Even when w
KEEP LEFTOVERS HOT OR COLD
To keep leftovers safe from harmful bacteria, there’s a simple rule to follow: either keep them piping hot, or chill them quickly.
While many of us have been taught not to put hot food in a cold fridge, modern fridges are equipped to handle hot foods in small amounts. Leftovers should be covered and placed in the fridge or freezer as soon as they have stopped steaming, as bacteria will start to grow rapidly if food is left standing at room temperature.
Perishables such as meat, poultry, pasta, rice and casseroles should be discarded if they are left out of the fridge or freezer for more than two hours.
Hot food should never go into the fridge in deep containers, as the food needs to cool quickly enough to remain safe. Shallow (no more than 5cm deep) airtight containers made of metal, glass or plastic are ideal for storing leftovers.
Look for square or rectangular containers for efficient use of space, and consider smaller containers that will store single serve portions.
FRIDGE AND FREEZER STRATEGIES
Your fridge temperature should be between 2°C and 4°C, while the freezer should be at or below –18°C. Rather than rely on temperature controls, you should check these temperatures periodically using an appliance thermometer (available from hardware stores). In addition to keeping your fridge at the right temperature, you should be careful not to overpack it, because cool air needs to circulate freely around the food.
Wipe spills up immediately to reduce the growth of listeria (which grows at fridge temperature) and to reduce the risk of bacteria spreading from one food to another. Finally, check expiration dates on foods regularly and if they are past their “use by” dates, discard them.
As a general rule, leftovers can be stored for three to four days in the fridge, while uncooked meats, poultry and seafood will last one or two days. If you won’t be eating leftovers within three to four days, it’s best to freeze them and then eat them within three months.
It’s still safe to eat leftovers after this period (freezing halts the growth of bacteria), but their flavours, textures and nutritional value will start to decline.
When reheating liquids such as sauces, curries, soups and gravies, always bring them to a boil. When reheating leftovers in the oven or microwave, cover them to retain moisture and ensure food is heated all the way through. You can’t tell just by looking at or smelling a food whether harmful bacteria has started to grow, so to be sure it is safe to eat, the food should be heated to 70°C or higher. The best way to check this is with a food thermometer.
TIP: When putting food in the freezer, write the date and the name of the dish on the container – it’s surprisingly easy to forget what’s in a container and how long it’s been in there.
TIP: It’s okay to leave steak, other whole cuts of beef or lamb a little bit rare when you reheat them, as long as they were initially seared at a high temperature to kill bacteria on the surface of