Having leftovers in the fridge can save you lots of valuable time on busy weeknights or activity-filled weekends. But if they’re not packaged properly, they could spoil before you have the chance to eat them. Bacteria such as e-coli and salmonella don’t affect the taste or appearance of food, so your timesaving endeavor could do your family more harm than good. However, by following a few basic rules, you can easily keep your food safe and secure.
Pack it up separately
Not all foods spoil at the same rate, so it’s important to pack leftovers in their own containers to avoid any cross-contamination. And if you have a large quantity of one particular food, such as soup or pasta sauce, divide it up into several shallow containers to facilitate faster cooling. Choose sturdy, stain-resistant containers such as Premier containers, particularly for tomato-based items.
Seal it securely
Choose containers that have securely fitting lids to keep your leftovers as fresh as possible. Rubbermaid Lock-its are a good choice – they have a built-in rubberized seal and four locking tabs so the lids stay securely on the container. If you tend to lose your matching lids, Rubbermaid Lock-Its can help with the Easy Find Lids system that snaps lids to the bottom of the container when not in use. In fact, Rubbermaid has a variety of containers featuring the Easy Find Lids System – Premier, Easy Find Lids, Lock-its and Produce Saver.
Chill leftovers in a timely manner
When you’ve got a container of hot food in front of you, it almost seems like common sense to let it cool down to room temperature before popping it in the fridge, but The FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition warns against waiting too long. They recommend refrigerating or freezing your leftovers within two hours of preparation or within an hour if the temperature of the food is above 90 F. The key idea is to keep it out of the “Danger Zone” of 40 F to 140 F, since that is when bacteria grow most rapidly.
Keep it cold while it thaws
Even though it takes a bit longer, the best method for thawing frozen leftovers is to do so in the fridge. Keeping the food cold while it’s thawing is the only way to keep it safe. If you are in a hurry, you can put the container in a sink full of cold water to speed the process up. Refill the cold water every 30 minutes to keep it cool. Alternately, use the defrost setting on your microwave, but only if you intend to heat and eat the food right away.
Avoid leftover mysteries
Ever reached to the very back of the fridge or freezer and pulled out a container of unidentifiable food? Since leftovers containing meat should be eaten within three days of preparation and everything else within five, it’s best to just toss anything that you cannot identify. To avoid this situation in the future, try attaching a label to the outside of the container with the date that the food was prepared, so no one will have to guess. You can also dedicate a specific area of the fridge or freezer for storing leftovers, so family members know where to look if they’re hungry.