If you’re anything like me, your days are jam packed with things to do. From going to work, running errands, trying to get to the gym, and everything that pops up in between, it can be difficult to find time to cook a from-scratch, new meal every night. Enter the busy person’s “supper savior” – leftovers! Leftovers are a great way to save time and give you the pleasure that comes from having a home cooked meal in no time. But, if you don’t follow the proper steps to store your leftovers, you run the risk of exposing yourself to harmful bacteria.
As I mentioned before, I’m all too aware of the time crunches that come with every day, but if you’re going to keep any leftovers you need to keep an eye on the clock. Your food should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of being cooked. The temptation might arise to just go ahead and let your meals cool on the stove while you attend to your other household chores. However, bacteria grow at the most rapid rates between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees (otherwise known as the “danger zone”). In those temperatures some bacteria can even double in number in just 20 minutes. It’s not called the “danger zone” for nothing!
Rule number one – don’t put a big pot of chili, soup or any large container of hot food in the fridge because the center won’t cool as quickly. Cut up large portions of meat and place your food in shallow containers before putting it in the fridge. This allows your food to cool quicker, plus it gives you manageable portions to reheat and eat later! Your 2 hour countdown begins as soon as the food is done cooking, so remember to keep an eye on that clock, and be sure you dispose of any food that sits out for more than 2 hours.
Now that you know how quickly to put the food in the fridge, you can just throw it in and forget about it, right? Wrong! Not only is it important that you chill your food within 2 hours, it’s also important that you store it in the fridge correctly. Make sure that your containers are sealed completely, and, whatever you do, don’t put your leftovers on a shelf underneath raw meat! Putting your leftovers under raw meat can lead to cross-contamination and ruin all the hard work you did to ensure that you got them into the fridge in less than 2 hours after being cooked. It’s also crucial to ensure that your refrigerator is set to a temperature of 40 degrees, and your freezer at 0 degrees.
Saving your leftovers for another meal is a great plan, but you know the saying, “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Don’t lose track of time! Just like the 2 hour countdown to chilling your food, you have a 3-4 day countdown to eat those leftovers.
Another thing to remember is that refrigerating and freezing your leftovers does not kill bacteria in the food, it merely slows its growth. Make sure that you heat all your leftovers safely when it comes time to reheat them.
Time waits for no one, and neither does food safety. Follow these rules and you will be on your way to enjoying quick, safe meals made from your leftovers!