How Long Do Leftovers Last?

Wondering how long cooked chicken lasts in the fridge? Or a leftover slice of pizza? Food expert Peggy Woodward lets us know just how long foods keep in the fridge. (You might want to print this out.)

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. 

Refrigerator Storage

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 (Learn more about how to tell if chicken is bad)
  • Pizza
  • 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 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 creative ways to use up mashed potatoes for inspiration.

These are our favorite ways to use leftover chicken.
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Peggy Woodward, RDN
Peggy is a Senior Food Editor for Taste of Home. In addition to curating recipes, she writes articles, develops recipes and is our in-house nutrition expert. She studied dietetics at the University of Illinois and completed post-graduate studies at the Medical University of South Carolina to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Peggy has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s a mom, a foodie and enjoys being active in her rural Wisconsin community.
Nicole Doster
Nicole is the Content Director of TMB's Strategy and Performance team. She oversees the brand's shopping and trend editorial teams and assists with content planning across Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Reader's Digest, The Healthy and Birds & Blooms. With over seven years of experience writing and editing in the food and home space, she enjoys sharing cooking tips, recipe picks and product recommendations that make life a little easier. When she's not hunched over her laptop, she's either practicing latte art or fixating on her latest DIY home renovation.