The first step in having safe leftovers is to cook the food safely. Cook the food to the proper temperature by using a food thermometer. Bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature danger zone (40°F to 140°F), so be sure your leftovers are safe by following these steps:
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking or holding it hot.
- Throw away all cooked food that has been at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
- Cool foods rapidly. To do this, large quantities of food should be cut in smaller pieces first or divided into shallow containers that will aid in cooling.
- Cover leftovers well before refrigerating. This helps keep odors and bacteria out and moisture in.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 4 months. Although leftovers are safe indefinitely when frozen, quality will deteriorate when stored longer.
For a chart on storage times, visit http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html.