There are limits to leftovers

Don’t let your leftovers cause foodborne illness by keeping them too long.

Preparing meals at home and saving leftovers is something that many Americans do as part of their weekly menu planning. Many people consider leftovers - planned overs; you intentionally prepare extra food to use within the next few days. If you use leftovers it is important to follow safe food handling practices. Many consumers don’t realize how quickly leftovers can become unsafe, causing food poisoning.

Michigan State University Extension recommends using refrigerated leftover food within three to five days depending on the type of food. Refer to the United States Department of Agriculture for storage time of refrigerated foods. Remember the number of days starts the day you prepare the food. Once cook the food you need to use the guidelines to eat, freeze or throw the food away. These guidelines also apply to food that you bring home from a restaurant.

Keeping and eating leftovers past the recommended amount of time can lead to foodborne illnesses/food poisoning. Common side effects of food poisoning include diarrhea and/or vomiting. These symptoms can occur within a few hours to a few days once food containing bacteria is eaten. Bacteria can be present even though you may think the food looks, smells and tastes ok. Even tasting a small amount of the food can make you sick. According to, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning.

Also remember to use good food safety practices when storing leftovers. Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Chill food within two hours after eating it. Discard any food that has been out at room temperature longer than two hours because bacteria may have grown to an unsafe level. Another good practice is to divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers so the food cools more quickly. Label with the date and use within the storage guidelines.

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