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4 Tips for Safely Storing Food

Posted: March 28, 2019

It’s okay if you’re unable to clean your plate at dinner. As children we were encouraged to finish every bite, but now it’s important to listen to our bodies and determine when we’ve had enough to eat. Besides, what we don’t eat for dinner tonight makes for a good lunch tomorrow, right?

Leftovers are good to have on hand if you’re on a budget or pressed for time. While the food is fine to enjoy after you prepare it, though, you have to be careful that it doesn’t cause harm later. The story of a young man dying of a rare form of food poisoning from eating leftover pasta is making the rounds in social media, and as such has raised concerns about how and what we eat.

In this particular case, the leftover pasta had not been refrigerated, and was reheated before consumption. Because the food was left out with little protection, it became a breeding ground for toxins that ultimately took the young man’s life. It’s a scary story, but it doesn’t mean leftovers should be considered dangerous. Simple preparation allows you enjoy second or third helpings of a meal you want to save.

Four steps you can take, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, help keep leftover food safe to eat:

Divide leftovers into small containers. Small, sealed containers help cooked food cool faster in a refrigerator. If you have half a lasagna still in its pan, or a slow-cooker of soup, you may be tempted to make room on a fridge shelf. Doing this could actually put your food at risk for growing bacteria, as large portions take longer to cool.

Divide large amounts of food accordingly in small, shallow containers. This also helps with portion control and lets you keep some food in the freezer for later.

Don’t leave food out. Everybody loves to eat. Cleaning up afterward…not so much. The dishes can wait a few minutes, though, while you prepare the food for safe storage. Leftovers should be packed and in your fridge within two hours of prep. The longer you leave food out in room temperature, the greater the risk of toxins…and illness.

Reheat with care. Whether you use a microwave or convection oven, it’s important that leftovers are thoroughly heated before you eat. It’s frustrating to cut into a pork chop or casserole and find a cold spot, so you should allow reheated food to sit before eating. For chilis, soups, and stews, pause the cooking in the middle to stir the contents so everything heats evenly.

When in doubt, throw it out. With certain foods, you can tell right away when it’s spoiled. If it doesn’t look like a science project, it smells unappetizing. Other leftovers, however, may go bad but you can’t always tell by sight or even taste. Rule of thumb is to throw out refrigerated leftovers after three or four days if you don’t plan to eat them. You may feel reluctant to do so, thinking you are wasting food, but when it comes to your health it’s better to be safe.

Leftovers may play an important role in your weight management plan, which is why it’s important to know how to keep your food safe. At Bon Secours, our team of physicians, Registered Dieticians, and other professionals can help you through every step of your healthy eating journey. Contact us today for more information.


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