DEAR PEGGY: How long is it safe to leave leftovers in the refrigerator and still feel safe eating them? —S.R., Santa Paula, California
If you lose track of how long that food has been in the refrigerator, always remember: If in doubt—throw it out!
For best storage, it's wise to put hot leftovers in smaller portions into shallow dishes to cool them quickly. Wait until steam has stopped rising from the food before chilling it so that you don't heat up your refrigerator.
Remember to choose strong food-storage containers that are clean and in good condition. And opt for covered containers—they're always a better choice than uncovered bowls or opened cans.
In addition, it's always important to get the food in the refrigerator within 2 hours after it's cooked or sooner if it's cooled enough. If food has been left out for longer than 2 hours, don't put it back in the refrigerator and don't keep it for later. It's not safe to eat.
The following foods will keep only 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator:
- Fresh (raw) ground meats and stew meats
- Gravy and meat broth
- Fresh poultry and fresh fish
- Shrimp, scallops, crayfish and squid
- Shucked clams, mussels, and oysters
The following foods will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator:
- Fully cooked ham slices
- Cooked meat and meat casseroles
- Cooked chicken and chicken casseroles
- Cooked fish and shellfish
The following items will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator:
- Opened packages of luncheon meats or deli meats
- Fully cooked ham portions
- Fresh meat steaks, chops and roasts
The following foods have longer refrigerator storage times as indicated:
- Fresh eggs in shells = 3 to 5 weeks
- Hard-cooked eggs = 1 week
- Commercial mayonnaise after opening = 2 months
- Opened hard cheese (such as cheddar or Swiss) = 3 to 4 weeks
- Soft cheese (such as brie or feta), cottage cheese, ricotta and milk = 1 week
- Yogurt = 7 to 14 days