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The best tips for safely storing and reheating leftovers

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Leftovers are a normal part of everyday family life. When you cook for a large family, it is natural that some food preparations make the transition to next day’s lunch. Leftovers can often develop in flavor if left to rest overnight; it is like the ingredients meld together to create an even better taste - particularly when making sauces and casseroles. However, few of us rarely ask ourselves the question: is this safe?
A failure to follow basic food hygiene practices when storing and reheating pre-cooked food could result in accidentally poisoning a family member. Many people rely on a “smell and look” technique when deciding if food is ok to eat, but some bugs don’t cause food to smell off, including E. coli and salmonella.
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Sorry to alarm you with scarily sounding bacteria, but do not worry, you are in the right place. Just follow these simple tips to ensure your leftovers are safe and delicious.
Best Practise - Storing Leftovers
Any part of a meal which is to be stored should be cooled and refrigerated/frozen within 90 minutes of cooking. Leftovers cannot be stored whilst warm, or they can affect the ambient temperature of your refrigerator/freezer.
The lifespan of leftovers can be shortened if your refrigerator or freezer are set to the wrong temperature. Make sure the refrigerator is below 40F (4C) and the freezer is below 0F (-18C).
Leftovers stored in the refrigerator should be consumed within two days. It is helpful to label the meal with the date it was prepared.
Best Practise - Reheating Leftovers
When reheating leftovers, it is important that the correct temperature is evenly achieved throughout the food. Cold areas in the meal could still harbor bacteria. To make sure there is no problem, you should look for an even temperature of 165F (74C).
Leftovers should only be reheated once. More time spent heating and cooling food creates the conditions for bacteria to grow. Just reheat the amount of food you are going to eat, rather than the whole batch.
If you are defrosting leftovers, make sure to reheat the food within 24 hours of thawing to reduce the possibility of bacterial build-up. Once thawed, do not refreeze.
Best Reheating Methods for Flavor and Texture
The three main appliances we use when reheating leftovers are the oven, the microwave, and the stovetop. They each have their own advantages depending on the type of food you are looking to warm up.
Oven
The oven is the perfect appliance for ensuring baked and fried goods retain their crisp textures. The oven is ideal for reheating a slice of pizza or french fries, and is great for giving new life to bread and pies. The oven is ideal for slowly and evenly warming up meat and seafood dishes.
Microwave
The microwave is the quickest method of reheating food. Whilst it can often make baked goods soggy and uninviting, the microwave is perfect for adequately reheating soups, stews, and casseroles. It is also useful for warming rice, pasta, and noodle dishes.
Stovetop
Warming food on the stovetop may take longer than other methods, but it is helpful for making sure your meal is heated evenly throughout. Soups, stews, and casseroles are great when reheated on the stovetop, whilst the correct pan can work well for meats and stir fry.
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These simple steps to better food hygiene are easy to follow and the ideal way to make sure your leftovers are healthy and delicious!
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