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Taking care of leftovers

Barbara Willenberg, former Associate State Specialist, and Jo Britt-Rankin, State Specialist, Associate Professor, Associate Dean, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, University of Missouri Extension


Cool leftovers quickly


  • Leftover perishable foods like meat, fish, poultry and foods containing eggs or dairy products, should be cooled quickly in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Divide large portions of hot food into small, shallow containers.
  • Don't cool perishable leftovers on the kitchen counter or let them sit at room temperature. Warm, moist food is a good place for food-poisoning germs to grow.

Eat leftovers in three to four days


  • Use perishable leftovers within three to four days.
  • Freeze them for longer storage.
  • Throw out leftovers that smell bad or look moldy or slimy.
  • Never taste old leftovers to see if they are safe.
  • Heating leftovers that have spoiled will not make them safe. Some poisons made by food-poisoning germs are not destroyed by heat.

Thaw leftovers in the refrigerator

  • Always thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator.
  • Heat leftovers until they are very hot. A covered pot will keep moisture in and make sure food heats all the way through.
  • Bring gravy, soup and sauces to a full rolling boil.
  • Leftovers can also be safely thawed in your microwave.
  • Cook and serve thawed food right away.
  • Don't refreeze leftovers that have been thawed in your microwave.


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Last Updated 10/25/2007