We see you: You’re working long hours in PPE, doing your best to prep healthy dishes at the beginning of the week and trying to squeeze in time to eat (not inhale) your food.
As a busy medical worker, you’re doing a lot, which is why we’re here to take some of the thought of meal planning out of the mix for you. Sure, you’ll have to be the one to decide if you want chicken and rice or chili this week, but we can definitely help you figure out how to store leftovers and make sure they’re still good. After all, nothing’s worse than getting to your long-awaited lunch hour only to find out that your food smells off.
How long can leftovers stay in the fridge?
How long are leftovers good for? That’s the million-dollar food safety question. And it’s a tricky one because there’s no “one size fits all” answer. Below, we’ll give some general answers on how long different dishes last in the refrigerator, but a good rule of thumb is to follow your nose (and other senses). If food smells off, tastes off or even looks off, best to just skip it.
Whatever type of food you’ll be storing, here are a few surefire practices
- Only reheat what you plan to eat.
- Never put hot food in the refrigerator, as it will take longer for it to cool down completely and invite the growth of bacteria. Wait until food is at room temperature to store it.
- Use airtight containers.
How long do cooked veggies last in the fridge?
Cooked vegetables will last around 3-7 days in the fridge in an airtight container.
How long does meat last in the fridge?
Hamburgers and ground meats like beef, turkey, chicken, other poultry, veal, pork and lamb will last only for 1 or 2 days. Steaks, chop and roasts will last for 3-5.
How long is rice good for in the fridge?
Rice is generally good in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
How long do restaurant leftovers last?
Leftover doggy bag food will generally last for 3-4 days when stored in the fridge properly, but it all depends on what’s in those leftovers. If you have leftover salad, for example, that may go bad quickly, especially if it’s already been dressed. If you have leftover veggies, rice or meat, refer to the guidance above for a more accurate estimate.
You may have caught on to a pattern here. Most leftovers last for an average of 3 days in the refrigerator. What does this mean for a busy professional like you? For one, it means making food you can freeze. It also means perhaps planning to meal prep two times a week so that your leftovers safely stretch out over that 3-day range.
The risks of eating spoiled food
The question that’s on everyone’s mind is: “Can you get food poisoning from leftovers?” And, since you’re a medical professional, we needn’t tell you about the dangers of spoilage.
Of course, you can get food poisoning from leftovers. It doesn’t mean you will, but it is a possibility and one that’s best to avoid. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets food poisoning every year.
How to tell whether food has gone bad
Bad food looks, smells and tastes bad. There is a reason that slimy, stinky food doesn’t appeal to us.
According to the USDA, you should look out for the following signs to tell if your good has gone off:
- Bad odors
- Unpleasant taste
- Weird textures like mush, slime and other decomposed textures
How to store leftovers so they last longer
The number-one rule for increasing the life of your leftovers? Freeze them. We know that this might not always be possible because not everything can be frozen. (Read: do not stick salad in the freezer.) But you can freeze many soups, stews and casseroles; and while this may increase your reheating times later in the week, the few extra minutes in the microwave or oven are worth it. If you freeze, you can make a whole week’s worth of food on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Remember to use airtight containers and never put hot or warm food in the fridge.
Finally, divide up leftovers in a way that makes sense. Instead of putting an entire pot of food into one giant food container for freezing, split your meals up into smaller containers so that you can grab one per lunch or dinner.
How to reheat leftovers
The following are our golden rules for reheating leftovers:
- Never reheat the same dish twice. That is, only reheat what you plan to eat.
- If the food is frozen, use the defrost function on the microwave.
- Whether or not the food is frozen or simply refrigerated, heat the food until steaming. You may need to pause the microwave a few times and mix the food around so it heats evenly.
How to make other meals with leftovers
So, you ordered Chinese takeout, and you ate all the chicken and broccoli but didn’t finish the rice? Look at the rice as a pre-cooked ingredient for another meal. This is solid logic for any type of leftovers you may have. Ask yourself whether or not you could use it in another way. You could spice up that rice by dropping it into a quick stir fry or putting it in a taco.
Just keep in mind that the decomposition clock has already started on any cooked food. So let’s say you use leftover rice in a stir fry a day later. Since rice is only good for about four days in the refrigerator and one of them has already passed, you should subtract that day from your “Is it still good?” count.
Supporting busy medical professionals goes beyond dressing them in a way that makes them feel confident and content. It’s also about making sure that your daily life goes as smoothly as possible. And if anyone understands you have a lot going on, it’s us. Happy eating, bon appetit!