Handling Leftovers with Care
We've all had leftovers. I mentioned a newly agreed upon rule of the handling of leftovers this morning and Wally disagreed. So, it's time to clear up the mysteries of leftovers.
First, how long can leftovers be stored in the refrigerator? According to everything I have read, 3 days is acceptable. However, that is based on the quality of packaging. If you place a food item in the fridge that is loosely or not appropriately packaged, it needs to be tossed shortly after being refrigerated. Takeout food is a good example.
How long should food be at room temperature before it is unsafe to eat? As a hard and fast rule, food should be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking. The clock starts the second the food is not being cooked. This includes restaurant food.
And the question that Wally disagreed with? When should leftovers be placed in the refrigerator. Due to bacteria growth in hot foods and the way that food cools from the outside in, placing newly cooked and still very hot food in the fridge is not recommended. Also, it is best to place leftovers in shallow containers so it cools evenly and there will be no bacteria pockets (caused by the hotter portions of the the food cooling slower).
One last note! Don't forget to reheat thoroughly so every little piece of food has been heated sufficiently. Microwaves reheat in a spotty way due to the microwaves "bouncing" through the food.
It's time to break out those leftovers!