Cooking Tips + Kitchen Tips

Published on August 16th, 2010 | by Rachel Fox, RD


Leftovers: 8 Tips for Safe Reheating

The summer season provides us with bountiful farmer’s markets and overflowing gardens.  An easy way to save food dollars is to cook in batches.  You can pre-portion meal servings and refrigerate/freeze them for later.  Leftovers make for easy lunch planning and are a life saver when you have no time to make dinner.  Remember these eight tips when enjoying your leftovers.

  1. Keep stored food cold. The bacterial danger zone is between 41-140 degrees Fahrenheit.  Purchase a refrigerator thermometer to double check your temperature.
  2. Travel safely. If you need to bring your lunch to work, keep it in a cooler while in transit to your workplace.  Maintaining the cold temperature is important in preventing bacterial growth.
  3. Don’t save food forever. Leftover food should be kept in the refrigerator for 7 days or less.  If you need to, put date labels on storage containers.
  4. When in doubt, throw it out! If your food looks funny, smells funny or feels funny…it’s probably time to pitch it.
  5. Reheat thoroughly. Your reheated food should be too hot to eat for 2 minutes after cooking.  If you can eat your leftovers right out of the oven (toaster oven/microwave) you have not heated it hot enough to kill harmful bacteria.
  6. Cook low and slow. For “solid” foods (meat, casserole, lasagna, quiche, etc) cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This will prevent the outside from cooking too much while leaving the inside too cold.
  7. Stir or turn halfway through. “Non-solid” foods (pasta, rice, chopped veggies, etc) can be stirred easily. Stir these foods halfway through cooking to ensure the whole meal is cooked through.  If you can’t stir it, flip it.
  8. Don’t reheat in plastic! Ever wonder why reusable containers turn red after heating tomato sauce? The sauce is melted into the container and yes the container melts into the sauce. Don’t eat your plastic containers anymore; reheat in glass/ceramic.

Questions or comments? Leave them below. Thanks!

Image credit: Creative Commons user captaincinema

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About the Author

Rachel is a Registered Dietitian and food and nutrition enthusiast from southeast Michigan. She has her Bachelor's in Dietetics from Central Michigan University and completed her dietetic internship at Michigan State University. Rachel aspires to get a Master's of Public Health in the near future. Her passions include cooking, baking, and even grocery shopping. She supports local food, slow food, and good food! Rachel's spare time is devoted to attending local concerts and festivals, reading and playing tennis.

6 Responses to Leftovers: 8 Tips for Safe Reheating

  1. Greg says:

    Left over tip #9: Don’t eat animals and you drastically reduce your exposure to bacteria in left overs.

  2. Sarah says:

    Good hints. Is it also true that you should not reheat things in plastics containers? Something about gases from the plastic getting in your food?

  3. Jackie says:

    Thanks for including the plastic tip! Icky icky icky, it’s not the way to get your roughage!
    Have a good day, nice blog Rachel!!!!!

  4. Dorothy says:

    Your articles are very imformative. Thanks for the tips.

  5. Bacteria are ubiquitous and live everywhere, even in our intestines. The human body, consisting of about 100 trillion cells, hosts about 10 times as many bacteria in the intestines. This symbiotic relationship is useful to our health since bacteria perform useful functions: fermenting substrates, preventing growth of harmful bacteria, producing vitamins (vitamin K, Biotin), producing hormones to mediate fat storage, helping our inmune system, among others.
    It’s true, in certain conditions, some species of bacteria are capable of causing disease (syphilis, pneumonia, sepsis,etc.) which emphasizes the need to handle and cook our foods properly.
    Greg should not fear eating animal protein. Remember he carries on his skin alone millions of bacteria, even after showering. So there is no escape from germs!!!!!!

  6. Pingback: Plastic-Free February, Day 1 – Eat Drink Better

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