Show some love for your leftovers: Tips keep food safe, appetizingA few slices of veggie pizza from that new restaurant you tried last night, a hunk of lasagna or eggplant parmesan from Saturday’s potluck, and that chili you simmered on Sunday need not languish in your refrigerator. All are candidates for another meal or two (or more) with some tender loving care.
By: Judy Hevrdejs, Chicago Tribune, INFORUM
A few slices of veggie pizza from that new restaurant you tried last night, a hunk of lasagna or eggplant parmesan from Saturday’s potluck, and that chili you simmered on Sunday need not languish in your refrigerator.
All are candidates for another meal or two (or more) with some tender loving care.
Whether it’s food you cooked in your own kitchen or something carried home from a restaurant or supermarket deli, keeping leftovers safe and appetizing all depends on how you store and reheat them. Here are some answers to questions you might have about leftovers.
Q: Isn’t it bad to eat a slice of reheated leftover pizza for breakfast, you ask? And should I really be chowing down on (pick one: lasagna or beef stew or roasted chicken) several times a week?
A:Depends – especially if the options are, say, chips and diet soda versus leftover lasagna.
“If you have a full meal ready to go, it might prevent you from eating something faster that may be less nutrient-dense,” says Dee Sandquist, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics representative and registered dietitian in Iowa. “But if that’s all you’re going eat for several days, you’re going to lack variety. So the strategy for that is to mix up the side dishes.”
“Try to compensate around the leftovers,” says Mary Ellen Camire, a University of Maine food science and human nutrition professor and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists. “Look at what that leftover is providing you. If you’re having lasagna, you’re getting some energy, you’re getting some tomato, some cheese but you’re not getting enough fiber. So you might want to have a high-fiber cereal in the morning.”
Q:Should I worry about the nutrients in leftovers, especially vitamins and minerals?
A:“When you compare it to how it (a dish) was fresh out of the oven, it’s probably going to lose a little bit,” says Sandquist. “Especially vitamin C. You’re going to lose a little bit every time you heat that. However, most people are not going to eat lasagna to get their vitamin C.”
“Unless you’ve been boiling something in water, generally the minerals are going to be fine,” adds Camire. “Of course, if you’re going to reheat things, don’t reheat the whole dish. Just take out a serving and reheat that because every cycle of reheating is going to cause more vitamin destruction.”
Q:How long can I leave leftovers out?
A:Perishable leftovers must be handled appropriately to prevent spoilage and the potential for bacteria to grow, experts say. Refrigerating them in storage containers as soon as possible then reheating thoroughly is imperative.
“Leftovers should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours total,” says Sandquist.
Leftovers you plan to eat in three to four days can be stored in the refrigerator. Leftovers (stews, casseroles, soups, etc.) you plan to store longer can be frozen; consider packing them in meal-size portions.
That two-hour time frame is also important with restaurant doggie bags. Remember, says Camire, “the dish may have sat for a little bit before it was served to you. It certainly sat while you were having your coffee and paying your bill. Then there’s the transport time home. That’s all a perfect window for bacteria to grow. It’s really taking more responsibility for your own health and the health of your family.”
Q:How should I reheat leftovers?
A: “One of the important points of reheating any food, is that it should be reheated quickly to 165 degrees,” Sandquist emphasizes. “And the reason is again to minimize any bacteria risk. Use a thermometer regardless of the way you reheat it.”
And take extra care when reheating in a microwave oven.
“Normally when you’re baking (leftovers) in the oven, you have the combination of high temperature and time to kill bacteria. That window becomes very, very short in the microwave,” says Camire. “And that’s why (experts) recommend leaving foods in the microwave for 2 minutes after you finish cooking. It’s giving it more time for that heat to penetrate. It’s not to let it to cool so you can touch it – it’s a food-safety issue.”
The two-hour rule: Do not let leftovers sit out longer than two hours. Chill ASAP to limit bacteria growth.
Wrap, label, date: Pack all leftovers in appropriate storage containers (refrigerator or freezer), then label and date. That Styrofoam container from the restaurant? “It’s a disposable meant to transport, not store and reheat,” says Sandquist.
Check: The temperature of the refrigerator (40 degrees or below) and freezer zero or below).
Heat 1: “Only what you’re going to use for a meal so you’re not continually bringing it up to temperature, cooling then reheating,” Sandquist says.
Heat 2: Leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Store cooked food prepared at home: Refrigerator (3-4 days). Freezer (varies: 1-2 months for pizza, 2-6 months for cooked meat, poultry).
Store restaurant or take-out food: “Definitely not more than 48 hours,” says Camire.
For more information: go to homefoodsafety.org or www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact _ Sheets/index.asp
Did you know?
41 percent Americans who don’t know what temperature to set their refrigerator at.
97 percent Leftover eaters who don’t use a food thermometer before eating to check if the food is 165 degrees F.
36 percent People who admit eating pizza leftover from the night before.
40 percent Restaurant diners who take doggie bags home for another meal.