Whether you’ve cooked your meal at home or bought it at a restaurant, knowing how to preserve leftover food is key to avoiding spoilage and foodborne illness.

Air, water, and temperature are your biggest concerns when it comes to safely handling leftovers.

Remembering these tips can make all the difference:

  • When using foil or plastic wrap to pack food for storage, press down firmly to eliminate air and keep it out.
  • To avoid water accumulation, cool leftover food uncovered before placing it in the refrigerator.
  • Cut food into smaller pieces, place it in containers no more than two inches deep, and store apart in the fridge so that it chills quickly.
  • Refrigerate leftovers as promptly as possible, but never place hot food directly into the refrigerator! This can warm the environment to above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, causing harmful microorganisms to grow and making food unsafe to eat.
  • Don’t leave food out for more than two hours—one hour if you’re in a warm climate.
  • Most leftovers should be frozen if they won’t be consumed within three to four days.
  • Whether frozen or refrigerated, leftovers should be reheated thoroughly before you eat them.

Knowing how to handle leftovers is smart. It saves money, prevents food waste, and keeps your food safe.

Get more food facts at ift.org/foodfacts.

In This Article

  1. Food Safety and Defense

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