Food Safety 101: How Long Can I Keep Leftovers?

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

With the USDA ground beef recall fresh on our minds, we are brushing up on our own food handling practices. Do you know how long you can leave that potato salad on your buffet ? What temperature meat should be before it is safely cooked and done?

If you’re not so sure, no worries: we’ve been doing a Food Safety 101 course this week to keep you and your guests happy and healthy.

We already talked a little bit about how long you can leave cooked food unrefrigerated. Today, how long can leftovers stay in my fridge before I throw them out?

Keeping Leftovers: Seven Days

For most leftovers, with the exception of highly perishable fish and seafood, or of food that is specifically marked otherwise, here is the rule of thumb. Eat it up or toss it in the trash after seven days. (Honestly, if you haven’t eaten that tuna casserole surprise by then, were you really going to?!) We keep a dry-erase marker handy for labeling containers of leftovers with expiration dates.

To answer our questions about food safety we turned to a standard culinary school textbook: ServSafe Coursebook, Fourth Edition published by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Food Safety 101
• How Long Can I Leave Cooked Foods Unrefrigerated?
How to Defrost Frozen Meat
Safe Temperatures for Poultry and Meat

More on food safety
• The Five Second Rule
• USDA Ground Beef Recall
• Where’s the Safe Beef?
• The Conscientious Cook: The Farm Bill Food Battle
• Text Message for Safe Fish

This is by Emma, who is up for one of our new writer positions. Welcome Emma!