How To Store Leftovers Safely And the Right Way - A Food Storage Guide

Alivia Whitaker | May 30, 2018 @ 12:00 AM

You've probably got a bunch of yummy leftovers from Memorial Day picnics or camping - here is how to store leftovers safely!

Make Sure It's Safe To Keep

The first steps in how to store leftovers is making sure the leftover is safe to keep in the first place.  If the food item contains dairy such as mayonnaise or cheese and has been left outside for a long time, it may not be safe to keep.  If you'd like to keep your leftovers but aren't heading home for awhile, simply place the food in a cooler or refrigerator until you can take it home.

Properly Store

The safest way in the your how to of how to store leftovers is storing in appropriate containers.  These containers can be as simple as secure wrap over the top of the dish, inexpensive Tupperware or glass containers with locking lids.

The official USDA website gives guidelines on this:

"Wrap Leftovers Well

Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture, and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling."

Be Mindful of How To Store Leftovers And When In The Fridge

Once you get those leftovers in the fridge, they're aren't good forever!  Follow this guide below from to know how long you can store certain types of foods: 


Cooked meat or poultry

3 to 4 days

2 to 6 months

Chicken nuggets or patties

3 to 4 days

1 to 3 months


3 to 4 days

1 to 2 months

Reheating Leftovers Safely

And finally, be careful in your reheating of leftovers.  Certain types of food may require different types of reheating treatment.  The USDA site gives guidelines on this:

"Thaw Frozen Leftovers Safely

Safe ways to thaw leftovers include the refrigerator, cold water and the microwave oven. Refrigerator thawing takes the longest but the leftovers stay safe the entire time. After thawing, the food should be used within 3 to 4 days or can be refrozen.

Cold water thawing is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The frozen leftovers must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, water can get into the food and bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could enter it. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.

Microwave thawing is the fastest method. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Foods thawed in the microwave can be refrozen after heating it to this safe temperature.

Reheat Leftovers Safely

When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.

When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave safe glass or ceramic dish, and add some liquid if needed. Be sure the covering is microwave safe, and vent the lid or wrap to let the steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking. Also, because microwaves have cold spots, check the temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer and allow a resting time before checking the internal temperature of the food with a food thermometer. Cooking continues for a longer time in dense foods such as a whole turkey or beef roast than in less dense foods like breads, small vegetables and fruits."

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