With the popularity of meal prepping and during the holiday season when you are likely to have leftovers, it’s important to handle food safely to avoid potentially serious food-borne illnesses such as salmonella.
The following are recommendations from the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which include three simple but often overlooked tips.
3 to 4 days, toss away
For nearly all traditional meal leftovers, the mantra to remember is ‘three to four days, toss away.’ It’s as simple as it sounds because after three to four days in the fridge, you should toss most leftovers, according to the USDA.
FoodSafety.gov shares a downloaded cold food storage chart for multiple types of foods including salad, meat, eggs, soup and leftovers.
When storing food in your refrigerator, make sure the temperature is at 40 degrees or colder. For meat products, you should always reheat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Room temperature grows bacteria
When it comes to leftovers, keep cold food cold and hot food hot.
Room temperature is the closest to ideal growing temperature for bacteria and mold.
If you have hot turkey leftover from Thanksgiving, you do not want to have it sit out on the kitchen counter for too long. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours. The same goes for cold food such as deli trays and potato salad often used at parties. Those items need to remain cold or should be refrigerated accordingly.
Salmonella, Escherichia Coli (E. coli), listeria and similar food-borne illnesses grow best about 98 degrees, but can grow at lower temperatures like room temperature, too.
“Plus, if you have a kitchen crowded with guests after a long day of using the oven, temperatures can rise quickly, which is more conducive for bacteria growth,” said Robin Henley, D.O., family medicine provider at Marshfield Clinic Health System.
You can ‘sense’ bad leftovers
While a timeframe works best, knowing when to pitch leftovers involves a bit of common sense – as well as your other senses, too.
Dr. Henley recommends checking three things when it comes to leftovers:
“If the food item stinks, has changed color or is slimy, I recommend not eating it,” Dr. Henley said. “While it may not always make you sick, it’s not worth taking the risk.”
For more information regarding proper cooking and safe food handling, visit foodsafety.gov.