Reader’s Question: How long are Leftovers Good for?

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on January 5, 2010

Photo by Melissambwilkins

Photo by Melissambwilkins

Hi Jenn,

Just wondering what your philosophy is on how long leftovers, etc. are still good for.

I notice you talk frequently about something defrosted in your fridge or, as in this post leftovers from Christmas, that you need to use up.

I’m all about the frugal and hate to see food wasted, but I’m also one of those people who won’t drink the milk once the sell by date arrives!*  I’m really trying to get over it, so I’m always curious on how others handle this kind of thing.

Right now I have some filet mignon leftover from dinner out Friday night.  It’s only Monday, but I haven’t used it yet and am already thinking it may just need to go!

Any tips or ideas?


Well Nancy, I am no food safety expert (and I don’t even play one on tv), so I have to turn to the big guns on this one-the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).

According to the chart on the USDA Basics for Handling Food Safely factsheet (or this reproduction of the chart on the DuPage County Health Dept site-which is easier to read)  most leftovers should be used with 1-4 days. So if you had eaten the filet on Monday or Tuesday you would have been within the USDA guidelines.

As for me, well honestly, I’m playing a bit fast & easy with the rules here.  I cooked my turkey (which was already presmoked, vacuum sealed & frozen) on Christmas.  I didn’t get around to picking all the meat off the carcass for a couple of days, so then I reboiled the entire carcass to make stock and removed the meat at that point.  I feel comfortable that the meat is still good-but the USDA or most health departments guidelines would not agree with me.

Do I recommend that you follow my lead? No.  You need to read up and make your own informed decisions. As I said at the start-I am not a food safety expert by any stretch of the imagination.

As far as tips or ideas, I’ve got a few that might help.

#1-Try using a weekly menu plan.  This will enable to you look at what you have in the fridge and use it up within the recommended timelines.

#2-Freeze it if you aren’t going to use it.  Freezing doesn’t have to be only for very long term storage-really, the freezer police won’t come and get you if you froze that leftover steak for only 5 days and then used it.   Just wrap it really well to prevent any freezer burn and don’t forget that it is in there! Again, a menu plan comes in handy for that.

#3-Look at your portion sizes.  If you are constantly throwing out food because you can’t use it all up in the right time frame, maybe you are making too much!  Should you cut the recipe in half, cook 1 less chicken breast, or even buy less at the store? If you are worried that by cooking less there won’t be enough food to go around make sure you have plenty of “filler” items, like pasta, rice or veggies.

So what do you all think? How do you meet the challenge of using up leftovers while keeping them safe?

*Note: Yankee Bill does that sell by thing too and it drives me nuts.  According to the Dairy Council of America, as long as it is refrigerated promptly and kept between 38-40 degrees Farenheit, milk lasts 5-7 days after the “Sell By” date. / CC BY-NC 2.0
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