How long can you keep leftover foods before they go bad? Dr. Donald Hensrud, director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, says that there are many variables that determine how long foods will remain safe to eat. He has some practical tips that can help people avoid getting sick from leftovers that have spoiled.
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"It varies as to how long we should keep them in the refrigerator before we eat them," says Dr. Hensrud.
Cooked leftovers, especially meat and eggs, should be refrigerated and eaten within two or three days. Otherwise, your risk of foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria increases.
"In general, our food supply here is pretty healthy. There are other countries where they don't have the sanitation, and there are a lot more foodborne diseases. Nonetheless, people should use common sense," says Dr. Hensrud.
If you know you're not going to eat leftovers within a few days, or if you're cooking in bulk for future meals, Dr. Hensrud says to freeze food immediately after cooking. When you reheat it, make sure that the internal temperature reaches 165 F or 74 C. For uncooked foods, such as salads, refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible and discard them if they're not eaten within two or three days.
"There's always the good old common-sense sniff test. If it doesn't smell good or look good, don't eat it," says Dr. Hensrud.