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It doesn’t matter if it’s dinner for one or if you have the entire family over, sometimes you’ll have leftovers. And the worst thing you can do is ruin a case of “good” leftovers by not storing them properly. Here’s how to get back to your favorite meal the next day (or the next week) by packing them properly:

Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone”

Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within two hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, leftovers must be refrigerated. Throw away all perishable foods that have been left in room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is over 90° F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer).

Cold perishable food, such as chicken salad or a platter of deli meats, should be kept at 40° F or below. When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often. Discard any cold leftovers that have been left out for more than two hours at room temperature (onen hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).

Cool Food Rapidly

To prevent bacterial growth, it’s important to cool food rapidly so it reaches as fast as possible the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40° F or below. To do this, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. A big pot of soup, for example, will take a long time to cool, inviting bacteria to multiply and increasing the danger of foodborne illness. Instead, divide the pot of soup into smaller containers so it will cool quickly.

Cut large items of food into smaller portions to cool. For whole roasts or hams, slice or cut them into smaller parts. Cut turkey into smaller pieces and refrigerate. Slice breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole.

TIP: Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

Wrap Leftovers Well

Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging or seal them in storage containers. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.

Store Leftovers Safely

Leftovers containing little or no meat can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.

Thaw Frozen Leftovers Safely

Refrigerator thawing takes the longest but the leftovers stay safe the entire time. After thawing, the food should be used within 3 to 4 days or can be refrozen.

You’re Doing It Wrong: How To Store & Reheat Leftovers  was originally published on blackdoctor.org

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