Where would life be without leftovers? Whether you’ve ordered too much take-out, or the gang couldn’t polish off that hearty 13×9 casserole, some foods just warrant a surplus. Which is great because leftovers can make the best next-day meals, and they’re handy for meal planners everywhere. But sometimes that several-days-old dish can look a little questionable after sitting in the back of the fridge. The question arises: How long do leftovers actually last? Food editor and resident leftover expert Peggy Woodward shares her best practices:
If you’re looking for creative ways to use up leftovers, try these tasty ideas.
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 lunch 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
Wondering how long produce lasts? Find our comprehensive chart here.
3 Rules of Thumb for All Foods:
When in Doubt, Throw it Out
If you lose track of how long a food has been in the refrigerator, it’s best to not risk eating it. Simply throw the food away. To avoid this problem in the future, label and date your leftovers before refrigerating. And to produce even less food waste, check out the food scraps you didn’t know you could eat.
Store Food Wisely
For best storage, it’s wise to divvy up hot leftovers into smaller portions, then place in shallow dishes to cool quickly. Wait until steam has stopped rising from the food before chilling, so the steam won’t heat up your fridge. Remember to choose strong food-storage containers (like these) that are clean and in good condition. And opt for covered containers—they’re always a better choice than uncovered bowls. Never store food in the can it came in.
Don’t Leave Dishes At Room Temperature
Food that’s sat out on the counter for too long can start growing harmful bacteria, so fridge or freeze as soon as you can. We recommend a two-hour window. Try to get food in the refrigerator within two hours after it’s cooked (or sooner if it’s cooled enough). If food has been left out for longer than that, it may be unsafe to eat. Err on the safe side and toss. Next, check out these other food safety mistakes you could be making.
Tips For Using Up Your Leftovers
To make sure your food doesn’t go to waste, get creative! Leftover meat can be added to a simple soup or be combined with eggs into a flaky quiche or frittata. If you have a small amount of leftover cooked vegetables, put an egg on top and enjoy the dish for supper. Leftover grains make tasty fried rice. Fruits can go into a fruit salad, chopped vegetables into a stir-fry. Many holiday foods have ample leftover uses, too. Check out our ideas for leftover turkey and creative ways to use up mashed potatoes for inspiration.