Getting Sick

Updated 7/18/2019

Leftovers are a handy way to cook once and eat twice. However, some foods not only lose nutritive value when reheated, but can become dangerous. Improper handling and storage of leftovers can allow bacteria to grow and result in food poisoning. Check out these tips for keeping food safe to enjoy for future meals, as well as which foods should never be reheated.

16. Reheat Only Once

Reheat

When preparing leftovers, keep in mind that foods should never be reheated more than once. If you bake a large casserole for dinner and intend to enjoy it again the next two days, be sure to reheat only one serving at a time. Reheating the entire casserole and then refrigerating it again can allow the growth of bacteria that will make you sick. Only reheat the amount you plan to eat. If any of that portion is left uneaten, throw it out.

15. Observe the 2-2-4 Rule

Leftovers

When storing and reusing food, keep the 2-2-4 rule in mind. The first 2 in this rule reminds you that food should be placed in your refrigerator within two hours of preparing. This means not leaving food sitting out on the table or countertop for long periods of time. The second 2 is a reminder to pack food in a shallow dish of two inches high. This helps the food chill faster than placing it in a larger container. Divide a large pot of soup or large casseroles into several smaller containers for faster cooling. The 4 reminds you that leftovers in your refrigerator should be eaten or frozen within four days.

14. Cover Food Properly

Leftover Food Cover

Keep your food tightly covered to prevent contamination with bacteria. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap or use airtight containers for storing your leftovers. Glass containers are best, as they can be safely used in the microwave. If you choose to use plastic containers, be sure to use ones that are bisphenol A (BPA) free. BPA is a chemical used in certain plastics that can be transferred to your food. To prevent transferring chemicals from plastic to your food, do not use plastic containers or plastic wrap in your microwave.

13. Follow Guidelines

Follow Guidelines

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes a chart for safe storage of foods in the refrigerator and freezer. If you ever wonder how long certain food items can be stored, check out this handy guide. For instance, hard-cooked eggs can be stored in the refrigerator for one week but should never be frozen. Raw egg whites can be refrigerated for two to four days, or frozen for up to one year. Cooked meat can be safely kept in the refrigerator for three to four days, but gravies and meat broths will only last one to two days.

12. Thaw Frozen Foods Safely

Frozen Foods

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also offers tips on food safety, including the safety of leftover foods. Thawing frozen leftovers in the refrigerator is the safest, although slowest, method of thawing frozen foods. Once thawed, frozen food should be consumed within three or four days. Frozen food can also be thawed in the microwave. Be sure to use a food thermometer, as thawed food needs to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Leftovers can also be reheated without thawing, although cooking frozen food takes longer than cooking thawed items. Simply fully reheat the frozen foods on the stovetop, in the oven, or in the microwave.

11. Beware of Eggs

Eggs

Some foods require extra caution when reheating, and eggs are one such food. Eggs carry the risk of Salmonella poisoning. While scrambling them on the stove renders them safe for eating, you will want to be sure to get any leftovers into the refrigerator quickly. Lightly cooked or runny eggs should not be stored and reused. Beware of items such as Caesar salad dressing and hollandaise sauce, which may contain unpasteurized eggs. Any foods containing eggs should be refrigerated within two hours. On especially hot days, these items need to be refrigerated within one hour.

10. Use Caution with Beets

Beets

Beets are delicious sources of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Boiled, baked, steamed, or roasted, they are flavorful accompaniments to any meal. They also contain nitrates, which, when reheated may turn into the cancer-causing agent nitrosamine. There is disagreement over whether reheating beets would result in enough nitrosamine to be dangerous. However, pregnant women should probably avoid eating beets that have been reheated. To use leftover cooked beets, use the chilled beets as toppings for a salad or enjoy them cold.

9. Don’t Leave Out Potatoes

Potatoes

Potatoes seem so sturdy and versatile. However, it is important to get your cooked spuds into the refrigerator quickly in order to prevent the growth of bacteria. Potatoes are grown in soil, so they may contain Clostridium botulinum. There have been outbreaks of food poisoning from this pathogen in baked potatoes that were wrapped in foil and left too long in a warm oven rather than being refrigerated.

8. Be Mindful of Nitrates in Cooked Spinach

Cooked Spinach

Like beets, spinach contains nitrates that can form nitrosamine when reheated. While there is some debate as to whether the nitrosamine present in reheated spinach is enough to harm you, it may be wise to consume cooked spinach in one meal. Again, pregnant women may want to avoid eating reheated spinach. If you do plan to reuse items containing cooked spinach, be sure to refrigerate them quickly.

7. Store Breast Milk Properly

Store Breast Milk

Breast milk that has been pumped and saved for future use should be stored properly to prevent contamination. The CDC offers guidelines for the proper storage and warming of breast milk. These guidelines advise keeping expressed milk at room temperature for up to four hours, in the refrigerator for up to four days, and in the freezer for six to twelve months. Unused portions of breast milk from a feeding should be discarded after two hours.

6. Refrigerate Rice Quickly

Refrigerate Rice

Rice is another food that seems hardy yet can harbor dangerous bacteria. Bacillus cereus is a pathogen found in rice that has led to outbreaks of food poisoning known as “fried rice syndrome.” To prevent the growth of this bacteria, be sure to refrigerate cooked rice quickly if you are planning to reheat it.

Related: 20 Great Tips for Making the Most of Your Microwave

5. Heat Chicken Once

Heat Chicken

You may be surprised to learn that reheated chicken is often a culprit in food poisoning. Make sure to fully cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent food poisoning from salmonella. Avoid cooking chicken twice. Chilled, cooked chicken can be a great addition to salad greens or used to whip up a tasty batch of chicken salad.

4. Avoid Reheating Fried Foods

Reheating Fried Foods

Fried foods are unhealthy enough the first time around. Reheating them is even worse for your body. Microwaving or reheating oily or greasy foods can render the oils on them, such as canola or olive oil, rancid. Additionally, reheating oily foods can release toxins called aldehydes which may cause cancer.

3. Leave Buffet Food at the Restaurant

Buffet Food

While foods served buffet style may be safe to eat at the restaurant, the warming tables they are kept on do not keep the food hot enough to prevent the growth of pathogens. Consume these food items immediately, and do not bring them home with you. Similarly, remember the 2-2-4 rule when serving food buffet style in your home. Place cooked food in the refrigerator within two hours in order to prevent foodborne illness.

2. Use Caution with Seafood

Seafood

Fish and other seafood carry the risk of food poisoning from bacteria or viruses. The CDC recommends cooking seafood to internal temperatures of 145 degrees Fahrenheit and leftover seafood to 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to prevent illness.

1. Avoid Reheating Cooked Mushrooms

Cooked Mushrooms

Mushrooms are another food that when cooked, should be consumed at one meal. Harmful bacteria can grow when cooked mushrooms are allowed to come to room temperature and are then reheated. Additionally, reheating mushrooms breaks down their protein content. Cook only the quantity of mushrooms you plan to consume, or else be sure to refrigerate them immediately to prevent adverse effects.

Related: Don’t Reheat These Foods in the Microwave
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