Many Americans make meals out of leftovers from their meals. And while everyone knows to refrigerate perishables, not everyone is taking all the proper steps to ensure the next-day food is safe, according to the Institute of Food Technologists, a nonprofit society of food science professionals from academia, government and industry.
The group definitely supports leftovers, and even says some foods actually taste better the next day, such as those with spices, because the flavors have time to meld. But be mindful that bacteria can grow in food.
Here are some tips for managing the food properly:
+Refrigeration: Of course food needs to be refrigerated. But people may not realize that you don’t need to cool cooked foods before putting them in modern refrigerators. They are built to cool dishes that are warm to the touch without breaking them, though you can save energy by chilling the food promptly after cooking. You can put it in front of a fan, in an ice bath or divide it into smaller portions in shallow dishes. Just make sure you get the food in there within two hours of cooking, or one hour on hot days.
Do make sure your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees or lower but using an appliance thermometer rather than relying on the refrigerator displays.
+Storing: The group recommends thin-walled metal, glass or plastic containers that are no more than two inches deep. Bags, foil and plastic are good for odd shaped food.
Keep cooked meat can for only three to four days. Uncooked meats, poultry and seafood will last only a day or two. Raw roasts, steak and chops can last three to five days. Casseroles, veggies and other side dishes will last three to five days also. Ditto for pie.
+Freezing: This totally halts bacteria growth in most foods for months. Recommended storage times are more for nutritional value and quality. Uncooked meats can be stored eight to 12 months, while frozen cooked meats will loose flavor after three months. The freezer should be zero degrees.
+Reheating: Use a thermometer to ensure proper temperature. Meats should be heated to 165 degrees in the center. Sauces, soups and gravies should be brought to a boil. Never reheat in a crock pot, slow cooker or chafing dish.
Steak and whole cuts of beef or lamb can be left a bit rare when reheated as long as they were initially cooked at a high temperature to sear the surface and kill bacteria. If you use a microwave, use a lower power setting to reheat without overcooking.