Leftovers: Keep or Toss?

Learn how long you can hold on to certain foods
and when it's time to trash them.

Leftover-Turkey Bake Recipe

Leftover-Turkey Bake Recipe

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 into shallow dishes or smaller portions to cool quickly. Wait until steam has stopped rising from food before putting it into the refrigerator 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.

Still not sure? Keep this chart in a handy place. It should give you many of the answers you need to determine how long food can safely be refrigerated.

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

These foods will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator:

  • fully cooked ham slices
  • cooked meat and meat casseroles
  • cooked chicken and chicken casseroles
  • pizza
  • cooked fish and cooked shellfish

The following will keep 3 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