Leftovers and Food Safety
The first step in having safe leftovers is to cook the food safely. To be sure you are cooking food to the proper temperature, use a food thermometer.
Bacteria grow rapidly, and to unsafe levels, if food is kept in what is called the “temperature danger zone.” (40°F to 140°F) Be sure your leftovers are kept safe by following these steps:
• Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking or holding it hot.
• Throw away all cooked food that has been at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
• Cool foods rapidly. To do this, large quantities of food should be cut in smaller pieces first or divided into shallow containers that will aid in cooling.
• Cover leftovers well before refrigerating. This helps keep odors and bacteria out and moisture in.
• Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 4 months. Although leftovers are safe indefinitely when frozen, quality will deteriorate when stored longer.
For a chart on storage times, visit: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html
If you are unsure about food storage or have other home and family-related questions, contact our ISU Extension and Outreach “AnswerLine.” Did you know you will actually talk to a person?! Yes, this is rare these days! You can speak directly with a Home Economist by calling the toll-free ISU AnswerLine number in Iowa!
AnswerLine is staffed Monday-Friday from 9 am-noon and 1-4 pm. To reach AnswerLine, call:
1-800-262-3804 (in Iowa)
1-800-854-1678 (in Minnesota)
1-800-735-2942 (Relay Iowa phone linkage for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals)
You can also visit AnswerLine’s website at:
• “To make sure I’m drinking water throughout the day, I use a permanent marker to designate levels on my large reusable water cup. I labeled them 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. That’s for a big one that sits on my desk at work. I have another for at home. This way I am not trying to play catch up later in the day.” --
A.L. in Oklahoma
• Three ways to save money on water-heater bills: 1) Set your temperature gauge to a lower setting. 2) Install a timer so that it’s not heating water when you aren’t there to use it. 3) Add an insulating cover to keep heat from escaping.
• Game changer: “When dunking a sandwich cookie (e.g. Oreos), jab a fork into the filling. Then you can dunk the whole thing or part of it without getting your fingers all milky — or your milk all ‘fingery.’” — A.J. in Florida
• When you microwave leftovers on a flat plate, be sure to spread them out for even heating. The classic ring of food is best — leaving the center of the plate empty. Slice already-cooked potatoes, and cover with a moistened paper towel.
• Need to light a pillar candle inside a hurricane glass? Use a stick of spaghetti! The pasta stick lights easily, and it’s long enough to give you the reach you need. It burns evenly, too.
• “If you like to save money by buying large packs of meat — say, ground beef or chicken tenderloins — here’s a great tip for storing them: Fill quart-size freezer bags, making sure to get out as much air as possible. Then stack flat on top of a pizza box in the freezer.” — T.L. in Missouri
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