Reusing leftovers is a great way to cut costs and even do your bit to help our planet, but you need to be careful about how you store them and when you eat them.
The first rule is to refrigerate promptly as illness-causing bacteria can start growing within a couple of hours (or sooner in high temperatures).
The Western Australian Department of Health provided these tips:
- Portioning food before cooling.
- Place liquid foods such as casseroles in shallow containers (no more than 5cm deep) to allow for rapid cooling and place in the fridge as soon as it stops steaming.
- Keep raw food, including meat, separated from cooked food. Always wrap and store cooked foods above raw foods in the fridge.
- Make sure your fridge isn’t too packed as air needs to circulate to properly chill food and slow bacteria growth.
Freezing is also an option but bear in mind it does not destroy harmful bacteria; rather it keeps your food safe until you can cook it.
Here’s a quick guide to what can be stored and for how long:
- Salads: Keep in the fridge for up to five days.
- Luncheon meat: An opened package or deli sliced meat will last up to five days in the fridge or up to two months in the freezer.
- Ground meat such as sausages and hamburgers: up to two days in the fridge and two months in the freezer.
- Fresh red meat (including roasts): Up to five days in the fridge or 12 months the freezer.
- Fresh poultry: Up to two days in the fridge or nine months in the freezer.
- Cooked meat or poultry: Up to four days in the fridge and four months in the freezer.
- Soups & stews: Up to four days in the fridge or three months in the freezer.
- Pizza: Up to four days in the fridge and two months in the freezer.
Leftover cooked rice is fine to eat as long as it gets cooled and refrigerated quickly after cooking and eaten within 24 hours, according to the WA Department of Health. This is because rice can contain a particularly tough type of bacteria that can survive heating.
Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot and do not reheat more than once.
Thawing food is where you need to be extra careful.
Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter; instead thaw in the refrigerator. This is because while the centre stays frozen the outside of the food can reach room temperature quite quickly and bacteria will start to multiply.
If you’re really pushed for time, thaw in the microwave. The food should be cooked immediately.