Are Leftovers or Overnight Food Safe To Be Consumed?


You are having a social gathering with some friends at home. And you realized that you have ordered too much food. Not wanting to waste food, you decided to pack the leftovers into your refrigerator for consumption another day.

Are your leftovers safe to be eaten actually?

Foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, is caused by harmful substances like bacteria. Since bacteria is neither visible to sight, nor comes with a flavor, there is no way to tell if the food is contaminated. The rule of thumb is that when in doubt, it’s better to just discard the food.

However, in the above case, if we refrigerate the leftovers promptly, they can be kept for three to four days (according to United States Department of Agriculture). The trick is to ensure safe handling and the leftovers reheated to a safe temperature which is 165 °F or 74 °C.

Danger Zone

Bacteria rapidly multiply at a temperature between 40 and 140 °F (4 – 60 °C). After the food is cooked, it must be kept hot at a minimum temperature of 140 °F (60 °C) to prevent the growth of bacteria. Within two hours, leftovers must be refrigerated.

Perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs should not sit for more than two hours at typical room temperature or more than one hour at temperatures above 90 °F (32 °C).

Ensure proper wrapping of leftovers

Make sure that leftovers are covered properly in airtight containers or food-wrap. This is to keep bacteria and moisture out. If needed, divide the leftovers into smaller containers to encourage rapid cooling.

Thawing your food

There are two easy methods to thawing.

You can either thaw the leftovers in the refrigerator (which is longer but safer) and make sure to consume within 3 – 4 days after thawing.

Another method that is faster would be to thaw the leftovers using your microwave.

Leftover Leftovers

If you have thawed and reheated your leftovers to the safe temperature of 165 °F or 74 °C, it is safe to refreeze them.

Remember, at the end of the day if you are unsure about the duration of the leftovers, it’s better not to take any chances and discard them.