How long do you keep your leftovers in the refrigerator?

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Executive Chef
Apr 4, 2015
New Hampshire Seacoast
Comments on this forum got me curious, and I asked Mr. Google how long you can keep leftovers. I know that the USDA recommends 3 to 4 days, but started looking for recommendations from others, as USDA guidelines seem short to me. I generally keep leftovers for up to a week before I think about tossing them (except seafood, which I only keep for a couple of days). Leftovers are promptly refrigerated (no way will I leave food out for 2 hours before it hits the fridge). I've never been sick from eating leftovers, and it's been a long time since I was considered young.

How long do you keep leftovers?

Here's links to some articles I read:

A professor from University of California says 3 to 5 days (advance to page 9 for the video):

Mayo Clinic says 3 to 4 days:

Food poisoning: How long can you safely keep leftovers? - Mayo Clinic

Here's an article from a food safety professional that recommends 3 to 4 days, 7 days maximum:

Food Safety Leftovers and To-Go

Here's an article that suggests the seven day rule, based upon the ServSafe coursebook:

Food Safety 101: How Long Can I Keep Leftovers? | The Kitchn

From a food scientist that suggests the common sense approach:

"DON’T throw away perfectly good food
Just because food has passed some arbitrary guideline of being in the fridge for ‘X’ days, you don’t need to toss it automatically. If you know it’s been handled carefully and refrigerated promptly and it looks and smells fine, then in all likelihood it will be safe."

The Dos and Don’ts of Keeping Leftovers Safe

A really comprehensive guide to shelf life:

StillTasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide - Save Money, Eat Better, Help The Environment
I don't have any hard and fast rules for leftover cooked foods. I tend to go more with a common sense approach. I put food away immediately, and try to eat it within a few days - maybe up to 5 days at most. Something like fish tends to go off more quickly, so I eat that up within a day or two.

If something sits in my fridge for more than a week, or worse, I don't remember what day I had it, then it automatically goes in the trash.

I worry more about food I've purchased, but which hasn't yet been cooked. For instance, if I buy fresh meat or vegetables, I find myself checking on it every day up until the point I cook it, just to make sure it's still good.
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Like Steve, I put the leftovers away as fast as I can. I also freeze stuff. When I lived in Germany, the leftovers were put in the "pantry." We also drank raw milk. Didn't get sick from either--leftovers or raw milk.
I like seeing mold form. ha ha...not really. I found some today while going through the fridge and tossing things. I won't keep the container the molded food was in. There is just too much chance of mold forming on the next victim.
I smell it. If it smells off, I won't feed it to anyone. I can't take the chance they'll get sick. If I'm not willing to eat it, I won't give it to anyone else. I guess I'm a 'food taster'. I don't trust DH to only taste good food for us, I let him taste test something and he threw up for a day and I felt guilty as hell. I don't think I'll get over that.

Anything in the fridge for 5 days is suspect to my willingness to eat it.

Cookies, crackers, candy, snack mix, anything like that, high in sugar or high in salt is probably safe for much longer.
Depends on what it is. Soup can easily stay for 7-9 days, good soup. Rice maybe 2-3 days. Mashed potato 3-4. Chicken or meat about a week. Salad - a day.
P.S. I did found a container of red borscht I made 2-3 weeks ago Yesterday. I ate it. It was still good. But that was an experiment. I would not recommend that to anybody.

Sent from my iPhone using Discuss Cooking
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Leftovers probably last longer than you would think. I think the quality would drop much faster. So, after a few days, even though you could eat it without getting sick, why would you want to?
Because I'm cheap, or lazy.

I'm not proud of my habits, but I am of what I cook. :chef:
So, I probably give the food I cook a longer stay of execution than I would anything else.

Otherwise, or really as an overall way, I go by my nose. If it smells funky even a bit, it's a no go.
Maybe I should have said if they have been leftover to the point where you are wondering about their safety, then they probably aren't that good anymore, anyway....I'd go one day..I should stay out of this thread. :LOL:
Well I know how bacteria multiply and also that they dont smell. So freezer if I know I wont eat it with in 2 days. Yes, it doesnt kill the bacteria, but it slows the multiplication level down and also no left overs stays longer 1 month in the freezer. Do I throw out a lot of food? No. I plan my dinner and make sure all gets eaten.

I go by Swedish food safety laws, strict but so far safe.

Oh when it comes to Germany, well it says on the bottles of raw milk, cook before drinking. I know, I have a bottle from 1980.
I am still alive, through no effort on my part!

Well, I have a jar of pasta sauce for about three or four months ago on the second shelf. It is way in the back. To toss it means I have to take everything out first, then wash the shelf, put the rest of the stuff back and that makes me go on to another shelf and then the next, you get the picture. The last time I looked at the jar nothing was growing in it. So it must still be safe, but I am not willing to find out the hard way. I did clean out the two bottom fresh produce drawers and the very bottom of the fridge while they were out soaking the other day. And I do clean out the very top shelf every time something is spilled. Which is quite frequent. It's those two dang second shelves at different levels. I should have made those two shelves a New Year's Resolution. Oh well. Too late now.
Well the jar can be safe, it all about how much perservatives your countries allows in food. Mine is very strict so it would be mold here.
I keep them until I find them way in the back of the refrigerator with green stuff growing on them, then I throw them away, container and all.
I keep them until I find them way in the back of the refrigerator with green stuff growing on them, then I throw them away, container and all.
I aspire to grow the green and blue molds. The blues and greens are just more appealing.
This last time I found mold it was a clean looking white mold, quite a disappointment color-wise. And then I've found pickles with white mold. How do salty vinegar things have white mold on them?
I keep them in the fridge until they are big enough to survive on their own, I then release them into the wild.
blissful, by contamination, by putting fingers or licking the fork when picking up pickles you can add salt thriving cultures. It also happens when you make them. There is a lot of bacteria that do love salt and acidity.
Maybe I'm paranoia, but I always try to eat the food within 1 or 2 days. Won't eat it after the second day even if it looks and smells perfectly good.

Welcome to my world Madeline, and also to Discuss Cooking.

I personally don't eat leftovers after two or three days. Husband will go up to a week. If there's something I want, I'll share it with him for a couple of days, after that, it's his. :rolleyes:
I put food in the fridge even while it is more than just warm. You want to pick on that holiday turkey? To bad. I have already removed all the meat from the bone and made packets for the freezer. For cooked food, into the freezer real fast. For jarred food, it always ends up in the back of the fridge until I see mold. Then I get really nervous and find myself cleaning the fridge after I have tossed the moldy food including the container. We have had food poisoning in this family on more than one occasion. Not mine, just close relatives. It is no fun! One member was in the hospital for a full week.

Cooked food goes right into the freezer. I make individual portions. That way if you feel like a bowl of yesterday's stew, take it out and pop it into the microwave. The meats get cut into slices and it goes into packets for sandwiches. Each small packet is just enough for one sandwich. My family have always loved to have leftover meat on toast with gravy. Unless there is a lot of gravy, I don't save it. I have a pile of McCormick gravy packets. Make one of them up for the open faced sandwich.

Leftover food scares me. With good reason. I have seen the results of poor food saving habits. And I have kept a bottle of Ipecac syrup in my bathroom for many year. So far it is still unopened.
I tend to push the limits of length of storage, but I always go by my nose. I think I was a bloodhound in my previous life because I can detect the slightest smell of alcohol or pot on people; when there's something dead nearby (like in a mousetrap or something larger); the smell of body odor on a hiking trail, and - back on topic - when food has gone bad.
I often open the fridge to smell something "off" and dig through it to find the offender.

I try not to howl too much.
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