UACES Facebook Handling Leftovers Safely Can Add Money to Your Food Budget
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Handling Leftovers Safely Can Add Money to Your Food Budget

calculator border with storage times for various leftovers
How we handle our leftovers determines whether it will be appetizing and safe for later use


Any time we can stretch our food budgets, it’s a good deal for the family. One way to do that is to handle leftovers properly so they can be turned into planned overs instead of being thrown away.

How you handle leftovers is important in determining whether it will be appetizing and safe for later use. You should never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Bacteria that causes food borne illnesses, or food poisoning as we call it, grow rapidly at room temperatures and become unsafe to eat.

You can safely save leftovers and use them in a few days in a whole new way. Think leftover taco meat in a burrito or in taco soup. One of the first things you will want to do is divide large amounts into small, shallow containers, no deeper than 2 inches, before placing them in the refrigerator. If you place a large bowl of hot stew in the refrigerator, there is a chance that up to 8 hours later, the center part of the stew could still be warm (140 degrees or higher), which would place the food in the “danger zone” for too long of a period.

To keep your foods safe, avoid putting too much food in the refrigerator. Cool air must circulate freely to safely cool foods. Make sure that there are no foods or containers blocking air vents in the refrigerator compartment.

Despite what you may have heard, you can safely save gravies and broths, as long as you cool them rapidly. They should be stored no longer than 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator or 3-4 months in the freezer, and should be reheated to boiling and boil for several minutes, before serving.

There are many leftovers you can freeze, as well as place in the refrigerator. Freezing will extend the shelf life of the leftover if proper care is taken.

For long-term storage, maintain a freezer temperature of 0 degree F. or less. A free-standing freezer can stay that cold; however, the freezer compartment on most refrigerators usually won’t. Plan to use foods stored there more quickly.

Take time to properly package your leftovers for the freezer. Use freezer containers, moisture-proof paper, or freezer bags. Use freezer tape to help keep the package airtight and free of freezer burn. Label each container with the item, date, and the number of servings. When you open your freezer, you’ll be able to identify the foods on hand and their freshness. 

Remember that not all leftovers will freeze well. Anything with hard cooked eggs, sour cream, gelatin, custard, mayonnaise, raw potatoes, and foods made with these ingredients will not maintain their quality in the freezer. They will be safe to eat, but the quality will be compromised.

 Once you have properly frozen your leftovers and are ready to use them again, do not thaw them on the counter. Bacteria thrive at room temperature.  If you need to thaw it fast, remove any foil or metal coverings, vent the corners of plastic or lids, and defrost on “low” or “defrost” settings in your microwave oven. Then cook it right away.

For your free publication, A Quick Consumer Guide to Safe Food Handling, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS/CarlaHaleyHadley, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at

By Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Carla Haley-Hadley
County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609

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