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You’ve just finished a big meal with friends, and you’re left with loads of extra food. Do you know how long to keep leftovers in the fridge?

When it comes to food leftovers, it is very important to store them properly. If they are not properly stored, they can become spoiled with germs and become unsafe to eat. Most foods can be safely stored in the refrigerator or freezer. This slows down the growth of germs.1

Here is a handy guide to storing your leftovers in the refrigerator or the freezer – and a guide to canning for long-term storage and usage.

How Long Do Certain Foods Keep In The Refrigerator Or Freezer? How About Canned Food Once Opened?

how long to keep leftovers | Unify Health

In order to slow bacterial growth, both cooked foods and canned foods that have been opened should be stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Here is a list of common foods, along with the suggested length of time to store them:

Food

Store in Fridge

Store in Freezer

Cranberry sauce (homemade) 10-14 days At least 2 months. If it was left out overnight, throw it away.2
Sweet potato (cooked) 7 days 4-6 months3
Pumpkin pie 2-4 days 6-8 months4
Pizza 3-4 days 1-2 months
Soups or stews with vegetables or meat added 3-4 days 2-3 months
Raw chicken 1-2 days for pieces or whole 9 months for pieces and 1 year for whole
Chicken (cooked) 1-2 days 2-6 months
Raw meat and ground beef 1-2 days 3-4 months (for best flavor; otherwise, they can be stored indefinitely at 0°F or lower)
Meat (cooked) 1-2 days 2-6 months
Eggs (hard boiled) 1 week Do not freeze.5
White potatoes (cooked) and mashed potatoes 3-4 days 10-12 months6

Canned food that has been opened needs to be stored in an especially careful manner. The problem with opening canned food is that you introduce outside bacteria into the food. Refrigerating the food slows down its growth. Most opened canned foods are still only good for about a week in the fridge. However, canned fish only lasts about two days.7

These rules apply equally for home-canned and industrially-canned goods, as both are susceptible to bacterial contamination. Once opened, touching the can with your hands or a kitchen utensil may spread bacteria.

What Types Of Food Stay Good At Room Temperature? And Which Ones Will Grow Bacteria More Quickly?

food storage | Unify HealthA common cause of food-borne illnesses is cooked foods that have not been allowed to cool properly. Bacteria in the air and on surfaces can build up in foods that have been left out. These foods should be put in shallow containers in the refrigerator within 2 hours so they can cool quickly.8

But some foods keep better at room temperature. For example, raw Yukon gold, red, and fingerling potatoes are best kept in a cool, dry place and will last for 2-5 weeks.9,10,11 Cooked potatoes, on the other hand, must be stored in the refrigerator quickly.

Note: White potatoes will grow bacteria quickly. To avoid this, remove the aluminum foil before storing, so that botulinum bacteria does not grow. Do not leave out at room temperature for 4 hours or more to avoid other bacterial growth.12 Bacteria grow most readily between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You can check the temperature with a food thermometer.13

Other foods with a long shelf life at room temperature include apples (5-7 days kept in a fruit bowl), onions (1-2 months), winter squash (1-3 months), and peanut butter (2 years).14

Food Storage Tips: Make Your Own Airtight Containers By Canning With Glass Jars (A Guide To Canning At Home)

how long to keep leftovers

You can make your own airtight containers for storing food. There are two ways: glass jars or metal containers. Glass jars can be reused, while metal containers can only be used once. Canning with metal containers is costly and requires special equipment. Canning with glass jars can easily be done at home. To do this, you will need a boiling-water canner.15

The best glass storage containers to use are Mason-type jars, either regular or wide-mouth. These come with two-piece tops (called “lids” and “screw bands”) for canning acidic foods. To make an airtight container, follow these steps below:

Jarring

  • Before use, wash empty jars in hot water with detergent (or use a dishwasher).

canning food | Unify HealthSterilization

For jams, jellies, and pickled products processed less than 10 minutes:

  1. Add to a boiling-water canner.
  2. Fill canner and jars with hot water to 1 inch above tops of jars.
  3. Boil for 10 minutes (add a minute for each increase in elevation above 1,000 feet).
  4. Remove and drain one jar at a time.
  5. Fill your jars with food, place lids on top, and tighten screw bands.

For foods that will be processed longer than 10 minutes, you do not need to sterilize the jars beforehand. These foods include vegetables, meats, and fruits.

Preparing Lids

canning food | Unify Health

How the lids are prepared makes a big difference in determining whether or not the food stays fresh inside the jar.

  1. Fill jars with food.
  2. Add liquid to cover the food.
  3. Release air bubbles by inserting a flat plastic spatula between food and jar. (This step is not necessary when filling jars with jams, jellies, and juices.)
  4. Clean the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel.
  5. Place the lid onto the cleaned jar.
  6. Fit the metal screw band over the flat lid.16

More Tips For Storing Different Foods: Use Your Senses Like Sight And Smell To See If Food Is Safe To Eat

The most perishable foods include raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. These carry the greatest possibility of bacterial contamination at room temperature.17 If the food has been left out for 2 hours or more at room temperature, or 1 hour or more at 90°F, then throw it out.18

woman checking food | Unify HealthBesides time and temperature, how do you know that other foods have spoiled? If you see mold on the food, then it is unsafe to eat. In general, spoiled food tends to develop a different texture and color, unpleasant odor, or bad taste before it becomes unsafe to eat.19

On the other hand, foods stored in the freezer are safe to eat. Bacteria that cause food poisoning cannot grow in the freezer.20

In general, it is important to know how long various foods last both in the fridge and outside in the kitchen. Each food has a different lifespan. Knowing how to identify whether a food is safe or if it has spoiled, and the methods for safe storage, like canning, will prevent a potential food-borne illness from occurring.

Learn More:
Healthy Food Swaps To Help Support Weight Loss And Start A Better Diet Today
What Is On The Whole 30 Diet Menu? Changing Eating Habits For Health And Well-Being
Try This Vegetarian Grocery List For Beginners: Essential Vegetarian Shopping List

Sources
1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2603156/
2 https://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/holidays/thanksgiving/how-long-does-cranberry-sauce-last
3 http://www.eatbydate.com/vegetables/fresh-vegetables/how-long-do-sweet-potatoes-or-yams-last/
4 http://www.eatbydate.com/grains/baked-goods/pie-shelf-life-expiration-date/
5 https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts
6 https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-store-cooked-potatoes
7 https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/dangers-eating-opened-can-food-after-days-3510.html
8 https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/How_Temperatures_Affect_Food.pdf
9 https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/08/11/foods-longest-shelf-life-expiration-date/39924813/
10 https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Acrylamide_FactSheet.html
11 https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/storing-food-safely-potatoes
12 https://www.statefoodsafety.com/Resources/Resources/is-my-baked-potato-safe-to-eat
13 https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/leftovers-and-food-safety/ct_index/!ut/p/a1/
14 https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/08/11/foods-longest-shelf-life-expiration-date/39924813/
15 https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/using_bw_canners.html
16 https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/general/recomm_jars_lids.html
17 http://www-ehs.ucsd.edu/food/FFA0211_FoodSafety.pdf
18 https://www.consumerreports.org/food-safety/how-to-tell-whether-expired-food-is-safe-to-eat/
19 https://www.consumerreports.org/food-safety/how-to-tell-whether-expired-food-is-safe-to-eat/
20 https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/06/27/you-toss-food-wait-check-it-out