Leftover Refrigerated Foods

By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.

Email: fihealthie@gmail.com

The refrigerator can be considered as one of the biggest technological advancements in the present days. Amidst the busy schedules, one finds it really easy to cook food and refrigerate it as food does not get spoiled.

Consuming Food Instantly Out Of The Refrigerator Is A Big NO!

If you start nibbling your food right after you take it out of the fridge, then you are doing more damage to your health than starving. The reason being eating stale, cold food can increase your chances of getting infected with any food-borne disease due to bacterial build-up (1).

Effects Of Leftovers On Health

  • Food Poisoning

It is also called food borne illness and is caused by harmful germs, such as bacteria in contaminated food. As bacteria typically don’t change the taste, smell or look of food, you can’t tell whether a food is dangerous to eat. So if you’re doubtful,bit’s best to throw it out. Most cases of food poisoning can be prevented with proper cooking and food handling (2).

  • Acidity

Leftovers get fermented due to the presence of harmful bacteria making them even more acidic in nature. Consuming this food can cause extremely acidity, which can last for a really long time (3).

  • Diarrhea

Excessive food poisoning can led to vomiting and severe stomach stomach, which might further lead to dehydration. Diarrhea is an extreme condition that can happen due to the the consumption of food infused with harmful bacteria (3).

Food Safety Tips For Leftovers (4)

Handling Leftovers

  • Before and after handling leftovers, wash your hands with hot soapy water, as well as all utensils, dishes and work surfaces.
  • Keep foods out of the danger zone, by heating it between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Throw away any cooked food left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Never rely on your nose, eyes or taste buds to judge the safety of food. You cannot tell if food is contaminated by its look, smell or taste.
  • If doubtful, better throw it away.

Cooling Leftovers

  • Refrigerate all leftovers promptly in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly.
  • Very hot items can first be cooled at room temperature. Refrigerate once steaming stops.
  • Leave the lid off or wrap loosely until the food is cooled to refrigeration temperature.
  • Avoid overstocking the refrigerator to allow cool air to circulate freely.

Storing Leftovers

  • Always use a clean container to hold the leftovers, or wrap the leftovers in leak-proof plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination. Keep different types of leftovers separate.
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 3 days, or freeze them for later use.
  • Date leftovers to help identify the contents and to ensure they are not stored too long.

Defrosting Leftovers

  • Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Ensure food is properly sealed.
  • Consume or cook the leftovers immediately after they have thawed.


Place the container or platter on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to avoid leakage on other foods during thawing.


  • Only use containers and wraps that are labelled as microwave safe.
  • Use the defrost setting of your microwave and make sure leftovers are completely defrosted before reheating.
  • Use or eat the leftovers immediately after defrosting. Don’t re-freeze foods that you’ve defrosted in the microwave.

Reheating Leftovers

  • Reheat leftovers to a safe internal temperature of 74 º C (165 F).
  • Use a digital food thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Bring gravies, soups and sauces to a full, rolling boil and stir during the process.
  • Discard uneaten leftovers after they have been reheated.

Reheating In A Microwave

  • Use only containers and plastic wrap designed for use in the microwave.
  • Loosen the lid or wrap to allow steam to escape.
  • Stop the microwave midway through reheating and stir the food so that the heat is evenly distributed.
  • Rotate the plate several times during cooking if your microwave does not have a rotating tray.

Storing and Preserving The Leftovers (5)

  • Make sure your freezer is set at 0°F and your refrigerator is set at 40°F or below.
  • After making a dish, divide out the food you want to store.
  • Cut smaller portions of the dish and place in air-tight containers.
  • Cut meat to pieces that can be frozen and reheated safely. Items such as bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn.
  • Divide food into portions you can realistically see you or your family consuming at one given time.
  • It’s also a good idea to label your frozen goods. Just write the name of the dish and the date on a piece of tape with a permanent marker. Then you always know what’s in there!
  • Leftovers will keep up to four or five days in the refrigerator and up to six months in the freezer.
  • Reheat leftovers thoroughly to a safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Foods You Should Not Refrigerate (6)

  • Melon – Whole melons kept at room temperature helps keep the antioxidants more intact as compared to refrigerating.
  • Potatoes – Cold temperature will breakdown the starch contents.
  • Honey – It can crystallize and seize up in cold temperatures.
  • Coffee – Humidity in the fridge can cause a buildup of watery condensation, which is no good for the flavor of ground or whole bean coffee.
  • Tomatoes – The chill of the icebox makes tomatoes dull and reduces the taste.
  • Onions – Uncut onions are happy out of the cold. The humidity of the refrigerator makes them moldy and mushy.
  • Garlic – Once the head has been broken open, use the cloves within 10 days.
  • Sauces – There’s plenty of vinegar to prevent bacterial growth hence no need of refrigerating.
  • Chocolate Spreads – This beloved condiment is super-spreadable when left out of the fridge; the distinctive chocolate flavor is more intense when not chilled.
  • Bread – It might keep mold growth at bay, but refrigeration can dry out bread.
  • Nuts – The cool environment can stifle the nutty flavor; shelled nuts can also absorb other odors lingering in the fridge.


Eating too much of leftover food can be harmful for your health. If the food is kept for a longer time and then consumed it could lose its nutritional value. Also, it could lead to some problems like food poisoning or indigestion. Also, there are some loss of colour, flavour and texture. However, refrigeration does prolong the shelf life of the food, so we do not have much of a choice but to refrigerate food. Caution must be exercised so that fruits and vegetables are refrigerated at the right temperature, as very low temperatures can cause freeze injury and result in the loss of food texture.


  1. https://www.thehealthsite.com/fitness/why-you-should-reheat-your-food-every-time-before-eating-d915-330595/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/food-safety/faq-20058500
  3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/diet/Harmful-effects-of-leftovers/articleshow/51023475.cms
  4. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/general-food-safety-tips/food-safety-tips-leftovers.html
  5. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/cooking-skills/storing/food-safety—how-to-store-and-how-long-to-keep-leftovers
  6. https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthy/packages/healthy-every-week/healthy-tips/foods-you-should-not-refrigerate

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