Leftovers often come as a savior. When you are in a hurry, you can just grab some pieces from the fridge, microwave, and eat them.
When you are hungry in the middle of the night, you can simply eat some of the leftovers from dinner.
Moreover, having leftovers can help you stay within budget, save a lot of cooking time, and help produce less food waste.
With so many perks, there are some drawbacks too. Leftovers have a limited lifespan that needs to be considered at all times. Eating leftovers after they expire can be dangerous.
How Long Are Leftovers Good For?
Different foods have different lifespans. So, whether the leftovers will stay good or not depends on the food. A rule of thumb is to consume leftovers within three to four days.
Secondly, storing the leftovers the right way is essential. Otherwise, they can go bad in a short time. You need to refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours to keep food in healthy condition. However, if the food is at a hot temperature, it is best to refrigerate them within 1 hour.
Lastly, reheat the leftovers properly. Usually, you need to reheat in the microwave until steam comes out. However, the time and temperature can be different for different foods.
You can find everything about storing criteria for different food items and reheating tips on Eva Smith’s Website. She also shares amazing recipes and cooking tips.
Different Spoilage Levels of Leftovers
As we have already mentioned, different food stays good for different periods. We have divided the most common food items into three categories based on their spoilage levels.
● Fresh fruits and vegetables stay fresh even at room temperature. They stay good for longer if you keep them in the refrigerator. However, they can be consumed within 3 to 7 days.
● Fruits and vegetables containing more water, like cucumber, tomato, oranges, etc., tend to lose freshness quicker. They should be consumed within five days.
● Canned fruits and vegetables can be stored for up to 10 days, like corn, tomatoes, beans, etc.
● Bread can be stored at room temperature for three days if they are homemade. On the other hand, store-bought bread stays good longer, for about 5 to 7 days.
● Storing bread in the refrigerator extends the shelf life by 3 to 5 days.
● Most desserts and sweets stay in good condition for 4 or 5 days if stored correctly in a refrigerator.
● Cooked pasta, quinoa, and barley stay good for three days at room temperature and up to 3 months in the refrigerator.
● Packaged and processed meat items, like hamburgers, sausages, ground beef, etc., can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Keeping them in the freezer extends their shelf life by 1 to 2 months.
● Foods that contain a higher percentage of protein and moisture are generally the ones with a high risk of spoiling.
● Raw meat and poultry do not stay good at room temperature for a long time. They can be stored in a refrigerator for 1 to 3 days. Freezing them helps them stay good for about 6 to 12 months.
● Eggs are prone to spoiling fast. Boiled eggs stored in the refrigerator should be consumed within seven days. Moreover, you cannot freeze them.
● Soups and stews remain consumable for 3 to 4 days if kept in the refrigerator.
● Delicate fishes, shellfish, and seafood can remain edible for about 3 to 4 days. If you’re looking to extend their shelf life, it’s essential to understand how to freeze shellfish properly.
Leftover Spoilage: Home-cooked vs. Takeout
Home-cooked meals tend to stay fresh longer compared to takeout. If the takeout has raw fish or meat, it is best to eat them within 24 hours.
How to Tell if the Leftover is Spoiled?
Even if you have stored your leftovers correctly, you still need to be cautious before consuming them, especially if some days have passed since keeping them. It is always better to be safe than sorry, as consuming spoiled food can be a health hazard.
There are several ways to determine whether the food is in good condition.
● Examine the texture of the food. If the texture has changed, then you should not eat it.
● Look for molds in the food. They can be in different colors in different foods, like white, green, yellow, brown, black, etc.
● Smell the food. If it has a foul odor, you should throw it away. If you see molds, do not smell them.
● Some meat and poultry items can have a slimy texture if gone bad.
● If the food is discolored, then they have spoiled.
If you notice any of the signs above, you should not consume that food. You should discard them right away.
Risks of Having Spoiled Food
Consuming spoiled food can cause food poisoning. This foodborne illness is caused by the bacteria and germ development in food items. In different foods, different pathogens start contamination and spoil the food.
Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella can develop in uncooked meat, eggs, unwashed fruits, and vegetables. Rice, pasta, potato, and beans can be contaminated due to the development of Bacillus cereus.
What to Do with Spoiled Leftovers?
The easiest way to get rid of spoiled leftovers is to throw them away in the garbage. You can try some other methods to reduce food waste and help in other ways. You can use leftovers and food waste as compost.
Some food leftover fruits and vegetables can be repurposed to get seeds or regrow plants. Otherwise, spoiled leftovers can be put on the soil. The soil absorbs the nutrients, and it is beneficial for the growth of plants and trees.
Now that you know how long your leftovers stay fresh and edible, you can improve your meal plan. You will know what items you can cook in a batch and store them for later. Moreover, even if they go bad, now you know how to get the best use out of them.