Safely turn leftovers into planned-overs

Cook once and eat twice! Keep your leftovers safe by following a few food safety tips.

There is nothing better than cooking once and eating twice! Not only is this a wonderful time saver, but often foods taste even better the next day. Safe handling of leftovers is important to reduce foodborne illness. With a few simple storage tips provided by the United Department of Agriculture (USDA), those leftovers will not only be tasty, but also safe.

After a meal, chill all leftovers within two hours. If the food was held at room temperature longer than two hours, discard as bacteria may have grown to unsafe levels. If the room temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, food can only be held without refrigeration only one hour. Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40 degree Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow storage containers so that it cools more quickly. Label the container and discard within three to four days.

Michigan State University Extension recommends hearting all leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use an instant read food thermometer to accurately check the temperature of the food. Soups and sauces need to be heated to a rolling boil to ensure it is safe. Never use a slow cooker or chafing dish to reheat leftovers. Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator, under cold running cold water or in the microwave oven. Never thaw frozen foods at room temperatures. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days or frozen for three to four months.

Everyone loves to save time in the kitchen. Transform your leftovers into planned-overs as a whole new meal. Extra grilled chicken from the weekend can be made into cheese and chicken quesadillas on Tuesday. Add your baked ham to bean and carrot soup. Peas from dinner can be added to a salad the next day. Ripe bananas can be added to a smoothie or made into banana bread. You can make a whole new meal by combining the leftovers with a few other ingredients. Reducing food waste and stretching your food can not only save money, but also save time.

Feeding your family economically, healthily and safely is easy by following a few simple food safety tips, as well as planning leftovers into a new family favorite!

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