Food safety

How long are leftovers good for?

Leftovers are highly perishable foods that require proper handling and strict monitoring to avoid causing foodborne ...

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Leftovers are highly perishable foods that require proper handling and strict monitoring to avoid causing foodborne illness.

  • Leftovers can last up to three to four days when refrigerated and up to four months when frozen.
  • The length at which food can stay safe during storage significantly depends on the nature of the food and its storage conditions.
  • Close temperature control and monitoring are strictly required when handling leftovers. 

Foods have a definite amount of time in which they will remain safe for consumption and acceptable in terms of quality. The rate at which food will last depends on its nature and storage condition. Even with the best storage conditions and preservation methods, food products will eventually spoil. Especially for foods such as leftovers, the risk of earlier spoilage is very likely to occur. Food handlers must know how long are leftovers good for to maximize the use of food ingredients.

Proper storage is one of the main principles of food safety. Storage conditions can affect the rate at which foods spoil. Under low-temperature ranges, foods can remain safe for a longer period of time. This storage condition is essential for preventing the growth of harmful bacteria on perishable foods, such as leftovers. In this blog post, we discuss how long are leftovers good for.

 Learn how food handlers should deal with leftovers and other perishable foods using our digital Food Safety Management System.


Here is a list of the topics discussed in this blog post:


How long are food leftovers good for?

Ideally, all leftovers can only stay in the refrigerator for three to four days. Beyond this period, leftovers must be immediately disposed of. On the other hand, frozen leftovers can be kept safe for three to four months

It's important for food handlers to understand how long do leftovers last in the fridge to optimize their use.

Leftovers are already exposed to external factors after cooking and serving. This means that the risk that they have been cross-contaminated at minimal levels is very likely. Leftovers must be handled properly to maintain safety if they are meant to be served again. 

Previous handling and cooking methods can determine how long can you keep leftovers in the fridge. Do not refrigerate leftovers that have been exposed to unsafe temperatures or the temperature danger zone (40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C)) for more than two hours. Instead, discard them. 


food leftovers stored


Shelf-life of different foods 


The shelf-life of different common food items significantly varies based on different factors. A set of cooked food may last longer than raw food when refrigerated, but its quality may decline faster.


Some factors that you have to consider include the following:

  1. The nature of your food. High-risk foods will spoil faster.
  2. The storage condition of your foods. Refrigerating and freezing foods will prolong the food's shelf-life.
  3. The addition of preservatives. These substances are added to stop dangerous bacteria from growing on food products.
  4. The level of food handling applied to the food.
  5. The level of cleanliness and sanitation around the food.

If all factors are in favor of the food being stored, then its shelf-life can be maximized. Consuming foods beyond their recommended shelf-life increases the risk of causing symptoms of food poisoning from the effects of dangerous bacteria. In addition, improper storage also increases the risk of generating more food waste.

Read our article about safe, long-term food storage rules for more information.


How long can you keep hard-boiled eggs and fresh ones in the fridge? 

Fresh eggs can be refrigerated, and they can last up to three to five weeks from the moment that they are placed inside the refrigerator. When frozen, eggs can last up to a year when stored fresh and uncontaminated. 

Prolonged refrigeration of eggs may significantly affect their quality, but safety is guaranteed. Eggs that have been refrigerated for too long may start breaking down, which is commonly seen as the egg white becoming runny and separating from the yolk. 

In terms of how long do hard-boiled eggs last in the fridge, these products can stay fresh and safe for up to seven days in the refrigerator.


How long do cooked veggies last in the fridge?

Cooked vegetables can last three to seven days when stored in an airtight container and refrigerated properly. Vegetables are considered high-risk foods and can spoil fast if improperly refrigerated. 

Other cooked vegetables, including canned goods, can last for 7 to 10 days inside the refrigerator when properly contained. If the vegetable is uncooked but sliced and washed, such as in the case of cold salads, it can remain safe for up to three to four days.

Vegetables, along with any fresh fruit, are considered highly perishable or high-risk foods. This fact is because vegetables and fruits have very high water content and are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are key requirements for bacterial growth.


food leftovers in the fridge


How long does cooked meat last in the fridge? 

Below, we discuss the different recommended shelf-life duration for the following food products:

  1. Meat
  2. Steak
  3. Chicken
  4. Turkey
  5. Ground meat


Different types of meats are all considered highly perishable. This is regardless of whether the meat product is processed or raw. Meats are very prone to spoilage as they are high in moisture. This raw material usually goes through several other handling stages before being used in the kitchen, making it more exposed to contaminating factors. 

In general, cooked meats should only be kept inside the refrigerator for a maximum of 4 days. This estimate will vary depending on the previous handling of food and the type of meat at hand.

Specifically, raw meats, including pork, beef, veal, and lamb, can stay fresh inside the fridge for three to five days. After cooking, the maximum time that they can be refrigerated is four days. 

If you want to keep your meat products longer, store them in the freezer. Frozen raw meats can last for up to 12 months if they are stored correctly.

Preserved or processed, raw meats have a slightly longer shelf-life when refrigerated. Raw, unopened packages of bacon have up to two weeks in the refrigerator and seven days when opened. When frozen, raw bacon can last up to one month. Although slices of bacon can last longer than 1 month in the freezer, the quality of the processed meat will continue to decline past the first month.

Other raw, preserved meats, such as sausages, have a shorter shelf-life inside the refrigerator. Since this type of meat product uses ground meat, the product has more exposed surface area.

At most, open packages of sausage will last up to two days inside a refrigerator and a month in the freezer. When cooked, they can last up to four days when refrigerated and up to six months frozen. 


How long does cooked steak last in the fridge?

Steaks are specific cuts of meat, usually raw beef. Like any other cuts of meat, including chops and roasts, cooked steaks can last for three to four days in the fridge and up to six months when frozen

On the other hand, raw steak can last for three to five days in the fridge and up to twelve months in the freezer while maintaining its quality. Beyond this time frame, the steak can become dry, and the risk of causing foodborne illness increases as well.


How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?

Cooked chicken and poultry can last longer in the fridge. After cooking, chicken products can last in the refrigerator for up to three to four days, especially when properly handled. Cooking inactivates any potential pathogen in poultry meat and allows the product to stay fresh longer.

The safety of raw chicken and other poultry meats is at best within one to two days of refrigeration. This time frame holds for both whole chicken and different cuts of poultry. 

When frozen properly, raw chicken can last up to a year, whereas poultry cuts can last up to nine months. 

Remember that ground poultry meat has a different shelf-life date than whole or pieces of poultry. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ground chicken can only stay in the freezer for up to 4 months at best. On the other hand, uncooked ground poultry has the same recommended refrigerated storage time frame as whole poultry.


How long does cooked turkey last in the fridge?

Similar to chicken, raw turkey can last in the fridge for up to two days, whether whole or pieces of meat. The turkey meat must be cooked within this time period to ensure food safety and quality.2

Freezing turkey meat extends the product's shelf-life up to 1 year for a whole turkey bird and 9 months for pieces of it. 

If the leftover turkey or other poultry meat has already been thawed once, refrigerating it will only extend its shelf life by up to two additional days. Prolonging its storage will only increase the risk of food poisoning as a result of dangerous levels of pathogenic bacteria.


How long does cooked ground beef last in the fridge? 

Once cooked, ground meat can be refrigerated for up to four days and up to four months when frozen.  Consuming cooked foods beyond four days of refrigeration increases the risk of causing food poisoning.

Raw ground meats, including hamburger patties, normally stay fresh and safe to consume for one to two days after refrigeration. Ground meat is processed by passing large chunks of meat into a grinder. This process exposes several areas of the meat to external factors, such as air and machine blades.

The exposure that the meat passes through increases the risk of contaminating the food. 

If frozen, raw ground meat can stay safe and fresh for three to four months. 


How long does shrimp last in the fridge?

Cooked shrimp and other seafood can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four more days.

Raw shrimp, along with other types of seafood, can last up to 2 days in the fridge before cooking. Make sure to cook them within this period to ensure safety.

Keeping shrimp in the freezer extends their shelf life up to three months. Remember that the quality of seafood changes more quickly than other meats. Prolonging their storage in the freezer runs the risk of losing their food quality.


How long does rice last in the fridge? 

Ideally, cooked rice should be immediately consumed after cooking. If there is any leftover rice, it can be refrigerated for no more than four days or frozen for a maximum period of one month.

Factors that will determine how long can you keep cooked rice in the fridge must be considered. The estimated time frame can only be true if the rice was thoroughly cooked, handled properly, and contained in a clean, airtight food storage container.

Rice is a high-risk food that supports the growth of bacteria. As such, it must be handled properly. 


how long to keep leftovers chart

How long to keep leftovers chart by FoodDocs


How to tell whether food has gone bad? 

Spoiled foods will produce observable changes indicating that they are no longer safe for consumption. Once food handlers or consumers notice any indication that the food is already spoiled, consuming or serving it must no longer be an option.


Here are some signs that the food has already gone bad and should no longer be consumed:

  1. Formation of bubbles surrounding the food.
  2. Excessing leaching of water from the food.
  3. Discoloration on the surface of the food.
  4. Formation of pathogenic colonies on the food. Colonies may appear as small circles of varying colors. They may have a cottony appearance and varying colors which are signs of mold growth.
  5. Production of slimy film on the surface of the food.
  6. Formation of foul smell
  7. Softening of the food.
  8. The food starts to have an off taste.

Consuming foods with any of these signs of spoilage can cause foodborne illness, especially for consumers with weak immune systems. It is highly unadvisable to taste the food to determine if it is spoiled.

In some cases, spoiled foods may have very unnoticeable signs of spoilage. This event can be dangerous for consumers. Always follow the proper food storage guide to ensure that foods will remain fresh and safe.

For more intuitive tracking of your food's shelf-life, use our digital Food Safety Management System. Using our intuitive digital solutions, you can get a traceability system that will allow you to keep track of food shelf-life using our mobile app. The app notification functions will also alert food handlers if there are any batches of raw materials that are about to go bad.

Stay on top of your product shelf-life and monitor all of your food safety practices for compliance using our digital solution.


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Safe storage rules for food leftovers

As mentioned, the estimated shelf-life of food foods can only be truly achieved if the food products are handled and stored properly. If food gets contaminated before refrigeration, it can still become spoiled and cause foodborne diseases.

Refrigeration only slows down the multiplication of pathogens, whereas freezing stops them. Once the food is removed from low-temperature storage, the progress of spoilage will continue.

To ensure that food will remain safe during storage, follow these food safety rules for leftovers:

  1. Food handlers must properly wash their hands with soapy water before handling leftovers.
  2. All utensils and food containers for leftovers must be cleaned and sanitized before use.
  3. Place leftover dishes in an airtight, leakproof container before refrigeration.
  4. Avoid storing leftovers in bulk. Divide the leftover meals into smaller sizes using shallow containers.
  5. Ensure that the fridge and freezer can maintain the recommended safe temperatures consistently. The refrigerator temperature must remain at 40°F (4°C) or below, whereas the freezer must maintain a temperature of 32°F to 0°F (0°C to -18°C).
  6. Make sure that the thermostat of your fridge or freezer is properly calibrated.
  7. Leftovers must be properly arranged in the fridge. They should always be placed on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator. Leftovers require at least 165°F (74°C) of proper cooking temperature before serving along with the other products at the bottom of the shelf. 
  8. Avoid storing leftover foods in the refrigerator for a very long time. Remember that refrigeration only slows down spoilage and does not stop it. 
  9. Never eat leftover foods that show signs of spoilage.
  10. While it is not recommended to refrigerate leftovers twice, you can still do so. Reheat foods correctly before refrigerating them again.

Maintain compliance with these storage rules for leftovers by consistently monitoring your food supply. Use our digital Food Safety Management System that can automatically generate monitoring logs and checklists to help your employees monitor storage rules.

Our smart software also features an intuitive notification system that alerts food handlers whenever a food safety task is due. Ensure and maintain compliance with our software.

Experience the efficiency of using our smart software for free by availing of our free 14-day trial.


How to reheat food that has been cold storage? 

Reheating leftover foods before using or serving them again is a critical operation. Proper reheating is a must to ensure that the leftovers are safe for consumption and will not contaminate other food products during cooking.

When reheating leftover food that has been in cold storage, always ensure that the product's internal temperature will reach 165°F (74°C). Food handlers must ensure this target by using a calibrated food thermometer.

When reheating, the food must be consistently stirred using a sanitized ladle. Stirring ensures that the heat is evenly distributed for uniform cooking. This operation is also required even if you are reheating foods using a microwave oven. 

Leftover foods are previously exposed to external factors and may have been contaminated. Properly handling and cooking them will ensure their safety and prevent causing foodborne illnesses.

Ideally, leftover "leftovers" should not be refrigerated again, especially if they were exposed to the temperature danger zone for more than 2 hours. In this case, dispose of the food immediately.

Test your employee's knowledge of food safety with our food safety quiz.


reheating food properly


Managing high-risk foods with a digital solution

One key element in managing high-risk foods such as leftovers is close monitoring. This type of food has a very high risk of spoiling or getting contaminated because of its nature and previous exposure to external factors.

When handling leftovers, proper handling, cooking, refrigerating, and temperature controls are essential. At FoodDocs, our digital Food Safety Management System can help you monitor these tasks all at once, most efficiently.

You can get the following benefits using our smart software powered by artificial intelligence:

  • Automatically generated monitoring logs specifically intended for your business operations, such as monitoring leftover handling. Some of the logs that you can efficiently use include:
    • Cooking temperature log

Cooking_temperature (1)-png

Cooking temperature log from FoodDocs


    • Fridge temperature log
    • Employee hygiene checklist
  • Never forget food safety tasks with our intuitive notifications. Food handlers will receive alerts via our mobile app, reminding them of tasks that need to be done.
  • Get a traceability system that can help you track the shelf-life of your food products and ingredients. Our system will alert your employees whenever an ingredient or product is about to expire. Optimize your ingredients and gain the most out of them.


Food Traceability Log from FoodDocs


In addition to managing your ingredients, our system can also help you manage your entire operations with smart solutions:

  • Get a quick overview of your everyday food safety operations across your branches with our real-time dashboard. Save at least 20% of your time by supervising your team on-site.
  • Store and organize all digital documents in our cloud-based storage system.



Food Safety System Set up by FoodDocs


Switching to our digital platform from your usual pen-and-paper method does not take much effort. Our system ispowered by artificial intelligence and a machine-learning program, making the switch a hassle-free task. The whole process can take as fast as 15 minutes.

All you have to do is describe your operations to our system by answering a few basic questions. All digital food safety documents will be automatically generated based on your answers.

Ensure that your team knows how to handle leftovers while consistently monitoring them. Use our digital solutions to maintain safety and prevent causing foodborne illnesses.

Start your digital food safety management journey by using our free 14-day trial now.



Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some additional questions that will help you understand this topic more.


How long are Thanksgiving leftovers good for?

Refrigerated Thanksgiving leftovers can stay safe for up to three to four days. This estimated time is only true if the Thanksgiving food has been handled properly. Otherwise, the food may spoil faster than expected.


Is 5 days too long for leftovers?

Health and safety agencies suggest that leftovers are only good for up to four days inside the fridge. This recommendation is based on the likelihood of food spoilage in the case of high-risk foods.


How do you know if leftovers are bad?

Some sure signs that leftovers are already bad include the following:

  1. Bad odor coming from the leftover.
  2. Formation of bubbles around the food.
  3. Discoloration of the surface.
  4. Formation of pathogen colonies on the surface.
  5. Formation of slime.

How long do you keep leftovers?

The ideal time frame for keeping leftovers in the refrigerator is three to four days. Beyond this time, the foods may no longer be safe to consume.


How long is sushi good for?

Sushi can stay safe for consumption for one to two days in the fridge. Sushi consists of different high-risk foods and can easily spoil when stored incorrectly.


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