Foods that are left over can save you money and time.

Additionally, they’re great for reducing food waste.

Although being frugal is a good idea, eating leftover food that has been in or out of the refrigerator for too long may be harmful to your health.

You might question how long these foods can be stored without becoming bad.

This article discusses how long leftovers are safe to consume and how to recognize ruined food.



✅ A food’s ability to last for a long time depends on a number of things, including how it was prepared, stored, and how quickly it goes bad.

✅ As soon as possible after preparation, preserve any leftover food. Reheat it to over 165°F (74°C), or until it is scorching hot.

✅ Food poisoning is particularly common in pregnant women, those over the age of 65, and people with weakened immune systems, therefore these groups should be extra cautious when eating leftovers.

✅ If in doubt, throw out leftovers within three days, or even sooner if they appear or smell strange.


leftover food varieties

Several elements, including safe preparation, suitable storage, and the type of food, affect how long meals remain safe. How long leftovers can be stored safely in your refrigerator depends on whether they are fish cakes or sautéed vegetables.

This is so that you won’t get sick, as some meals are more likely to contain pathogens like germs or poisons.

But leftovers frequently combine several food categories. A decent rule of thumb in these situations is to base your decision on which ingredient in the meal degrades first. For instance, seafood rice would only be edible for as long as the seafood, which, as will be discussed below, has a larger risk than rice.

If in doubt, it’s best to discard leftovers within three days.


Healthier foods

Veggies and fruits

The sooner you can start eating these raw foods, the better. All raw fruits and vegetables should be well-rinsed in clean water before consumption. Fresh fruit that has been sliced and well washed often keeps for 3-5 days before it starts to lose its freshness.

Vegetable leftovers can typically be kept in the refrigerator for 3–7 days after cooking if they are sealed in an airtight container. With proper storage, cooked vegetables in cans, such as beans or other legumes, often survive 7–10 days.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries are examples of fruits and vegetables having a higher water content than those with lower water content, such as kale, potatoes, and bananas. These produce items lose their freshness more quickly. This could accelerate or retard the timer for how long you might want to keep the food before eating it.


Bread is another food item with little danger.

Store-bought bread will be fine to eat for around 5-7 days, unless you observe mold, whereas homemade bread can last for about 3 days at room temperature. Never consume bread that has gone moldy.

Bread can be kept in the refrigerator for an additional 3-5 days, but the longer they are kept there, the worse the quality gets.

Medium-risk food items

When stored properly, cooked grains like barley and quinoa can last up to three days.

After cooking, you can freeze these and they’ll typically keep for three months before they start to lose their freshness.

Desserts and other sweets often keep in the refrigerator for 3–4 days.

More risky foods

Foods with increased protein and moisture content, two factors that encourage the growth of specific bacteria, are more likely to cause food illness.

Cooked rice

Rice is one food that deviates from this general rule since it can contain Bacillus cereus spores. Toxins produced by this bacterium can result in foodborne diseases.

After it has been cooked, the rice should be stored, cooled, and eaten within three days.

Livestock and poultry

As long as they are kept at or below 41°F (5°C), ground meat and poultry that has been cooked to a safe temperature can last for about 1-2 days in the refrigerator.

Steaks, fillets, chops, and roasts are examples of other meat and poultry that keep well in the fridge for 3–4 days.

These should only ever be defrosted in the refrigerator, never on the counter, if you plan to do so. Prepare food within two days of thawing.

Using the microwave to defrost food is also an option, but make sure to consume the meal right away.

Deli meat that has been opened needs to be eaten within three to five days. Cold deli salads, such as egg, tuna, or chicken salad, must also be consumed within three to five days.

Eggs, soups, stews, and shellfish

Another food that carries a higher risk of spreading Salmonella is eggs. Hard-boiled eggs that have been shelled should be consumed within seven days of cooking and storing.

Fish and shellfish should be eaten carefully since they may contain poisons like histamine or other infections that could make you ill. Seafood leftovers must be eaten within three days.

In the refrigerator, soups, and stews, whether they contain meat or fish or not, typically keep for 3 to 4 days.

Meals from a restaurant vs. home-cooked

You should keep in mind that you won’t always know how fresh the ingredients were before being used when dealing with restaurant leftovers.

These leftovers should be consumed 3 to 4 days sooner than their handmade equivalents. Consume the remaining food within 24 hours if it contains raw ingredients, such as raw fish or vegetables.


How to determine if the food is edible?

You should smell and look for spoiled food indicators when inspecting your meals.

Start by checking for any textural changes or the presence of mold, which can show as white, green, orange-red, pink, or black fuzz, among other hues. This is a sign that the food has gone bad and needs to be thrown out.

Don’t smell mold if you notice it because doing so could harm your respiratory system.

Foods that form a slimy coating, like deli meats, should also be thrown away.

Your leftovers are no longer safe to eat if they smell sour. Similarly, food that has been discolored might no longer be healthy or tasty to eat.

However, throw your leftovers away right away and, if you can, spit out anything you haven’t already swallowed if you take a bite and notice something odd about the flavor.

Remember to abide by the aforementioned rules because the food might spoil before you can detect it by looking at it or smelling it.


Guidelines for appropriate storage

Between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C), bacteria can flourish. The “danger zone” is this range of temperatures.

Within two hours, store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them out of the danger zone. When it’s over 90°F (32°C) outside, you should cool down or freeze your food and drink within an hour.

Hot foods should be kept in smaller, sealed containers that are shallower. Foods will cool more quickly and evenly as a result.

Although most bacteria grow more slowly in a refrigerator, it’s crucial to remember that some bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, can still multiply there.

It’s crucial to remember how long you’ve kept a specific item in your refrigerator for this reason. When you store your food, it could be useful to label it with the date and time you initially created the dish, as well as the date it should be thrown out.

Think about the arrangement of the products you’re putting in your refrigerator as another helpful hint.

Foods that are ready-to-eat and uncooked foods should both be kept on the top shelf. Uncooked meats should be placed to the bottom of the refrigerator in the meantime.

In this way, juices from raw meat or poultry won’t drip onto your leftovers and endanger their safety.

Foods should be heated to at least 165°F (74°C) before eating.


Dangers of consuming rotten food

Inadequately heating food to a safe internal temperature and letting food out at dangerous temperatures are the two main causes of foodborne diseases.

Common foods can include a variety of microorganisms that can result in food poisoning, including:

  • Listeria monocytogenes: deli meats, undercooked eggs, fruits and vegetables that haven’t been properly washed, and smoked seafood
  • Ciguatoxin: Fish from the tropics and subtropics, such as grouper and red snapper, contain ciguatoxin.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: deli meats, cold salads, pastry filling, puddings, and sandwiches.
  • Bacillus cereus: rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, meats, vegetables, and fish.
  • Escherichia coli: undercooked meats, improperly cleaned fruits and vegetables (particularly leafy greens), unpasteurized dairy.
  • Salmonella: eggs, fruits, vegetables, nut butter, meats, and poultry.

However, since their spores float about freely in the air and fall on food, leftovers are particularly vulnerable to these infections. As a result, mold can grow and generate mycotoxins, which can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a combination of these symptoms.


Who is at risk the most?

Pregnant women should take extra care to prepare, store, and reheat their food correctly. They are particularly susceptible to food poisoning, especially those caused by Listeria. Listeria can pass through the placenta and damage an unborn child.

Additionally, elderly individuals and individuals with impaired immune systems need to be extremely cautious when preparing and storing food. People who have the following conditions are included in this.

Cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease


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