10 Tips for Reheating Leftovers Without Getting Sick

10 Tips for Reheating Leftovers Without Getting Sick


Did you know that one in six Americans will contract food poisoning each year? The Center for Disease Control states that 128,000 people are hospitalized each year for this sickness. Sadly, in some cases, food poisoning can become so severe that it can cause death.

Using last night’s dinner for tomorrow’s lunch is financially wise. Do you realize that there are 40 million tons of food wasted each year in this country? The numbers are staggering, considering that many countries have people thankful to get one meal a day.

You want to repurpose your leftover meals and use them for something else. While this is a good idea, you must be safe to prevent contamination with salmonella or other foodborne bacteria.

Here are ten tips for reheating and storing your leftover foods so that you don’t get sick.

1. Don’t Keep Leftovers More Than Three Days

Benjamin Franklin made an astounding comment when he said that fish and company both stink after three days. However, it’s not just fish that you should be concerned with as all foods harbor bacteria. The problem is that when foods get above 40 degrees is it allows the toxins to grow.

So, if your kids open the fridge and get that box of pizza out three times, each time it’s giving them a higher risk of them developing food poisoning. Don’t keep reheating your foods, and throw out all leftovers when they hit the three-day mark.


2. Never Let Food Sit Out for More Than Two Hours

Your refrigerator stops the growth of germs because of the cold temperature, but once you sit it out on the counter for a couple of hours, then it’s a whole different ballgame.

The temperature inside your home is probably around 70 degrees. If that food sits out on the counter for a few hours, then it’s going to be unsafe to eat. If you live in an area where the temperature is warmer, then you should only let it sit out for an hour.

Remember, bacteria won’t always change the taste or appearance of your foods.

3. Reheat Until the Internal Temperature is 165 Degrees

You have many choices for reheating food. However, the key is to make sure that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. It would help if you used a meat thermometer to check the center to ensure the proper temperature.

If you don’t reheat it properly, then you increase your risk of getting sick. Don’t take a chance because food poisoning is a nasty condition that you don’t ever want to experience.

4. Make Sure All Leftovers Are Wrapped Securely

Have you ever made a bowl of tuna salad and just sat it inside the refrigerator without a lid? In only a few hours, everything in your fridge would smell and taste like tuna. You must put a lid and seal your leftovers tightly.

A lid prevents other flavors from blending as well as keeping germs from entering or exiting this dish.

5. You Can Freeze Leftovers for 3-4 Months

Are you one of the people who think you can toss something in the freezer and forget about it? Believe it or not, food in the freezer also has an expiration date. You should mark each item with the date you freeze it so that you know when to use it by or pitch it.

As a rule of thumb, you should use or toss foods after 3-4 months, specifically ones that have been previously cooked. There are other guidelines for fresh meat, and some can be frozen up to a year or more. However, when it comes to leftover foods, stick with four months tops.

6. Never Reheat Leftovers More Than Once

Each time you reheat that vegetable soup or other entrée, you are taking away from the dish’s vitality. It’s better to portion out the amount you want and save the rest for later. Each time you reheat and cool a food item, you are increasing the risk of multiplying the germs and your chance of getting poisoning.

It gets tricky if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system. In these instances, you should never eat leftover foods at all. You want to protect yourself as best as possible, and you can only do this by being extra careful with day-old items.

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7. Use the Oven to Reheat When Possible

Some people love using a microwave because it’s a quick and easy way to reheat food. However, many foods lose their integrity in this device. For instance, pizza reheated in the microwave doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as it does in the oven.

Additionally, the oven heats more thoroughly, which can be a big issue when you’re talking about food poisoning. Things like rice need to be a consistent temperature of at least 165 degrees to keep germs like bacillus cereus at bay.

The bacillus cereus toxin can linger in temperatures above 168 degrees, which is why it’s so important to make sure you have a consistent temperature throughout your foods. When in doubt, use your oven to do any reheating.

8. Never Refreeze Leftovers That Have Been Thawed

Let’s assume you take a package of chicken out of the freezer and boil it. Then, you shred it into small packages to put in the freezer for a quick meal. Now, once you take one of those packages out to cook for dinner, never put it back in the freezer.

Once the meat has been thawed and used once, it can’t be refrozen. Why is this such a problem? As you thaw meet, the toxins and germs start to grow. When you put it in the freezer, it stops the growth but cannot eliminate what’s already there.

Then, during the second thawing, it introduces even more bacterium to the food. It’s just never a good idea to refreeze anything twice.

9. Serve Reheated Foods Immediately

You must always serve foods that you have reheated immediately. We’ve already discussed that toxins start to grow once food reaches 40 degrees, so the longer you leave it to sit out, the greater the risk of germs.

Once you’ve reheated a dish, make sure you serve it within 5-10 minutes. Please don’t allow it to sit out in a room temperature home and allow germs to grow. It’s often the little things when it comes to leftovers that have the most significant impact.

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