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Keeping Your Leftovers Safe To Eat

Many a night my family has had leftovers and it has been a welcome treat for dinner! No cooking and in just a few minutes time you have a hot meal without all of the work! I normally try to make 2-3 meals at a time. With leftovers, it can turn my cooking into 5-6 different dinners. What a time saver, when I come home tired at the end of a day!

With the refrigerator full of Styrofoam boxes and plastic Tupperware containers it is crucial to know all the important information about leftovers. Here are some key tips to help:

You can save many foods but you want to save the ones that will be of the same quality later. For example storing beef stew can easily be reheated and enjoyed, where as a leftover with a bread or absorbent base may become soggy and not as easy to prepare again.


It is very important that you begin to store your leftovers right about two hours after preparing them. Pay special attention to dairy and meat products to assure they are refrigerated promptly after use.


Even though we are all tempted to wrap everything in aluminum foil, it is very important that you efficiently store your leftovers in airtight, shallow (1- to 2-inch deep) containers to allow adequate circulation of cool air.

First and foremost, sniffing your food is not a SAFE way to determining if your food has gone bad! That can be a stinky! Cooked lean meat and beef can be saved in a refrigerator for about three days. Use good judgment with this! You didn't forget that you put lots of parsley on your food. That's just not parsley!

This is simple. Make sure it is set at 40*. You may have to look to your owners manual to find out exactly which setting that may be.

Label all of your leftovers! Mark them with the date and whets inside. Keep the older leftovers in front. This will assure old leftovers are tossed and it may actually help you have more organization in you fridge.

Many people will taste their leftovers to see if they are still good. Don't do this! If in doubt, throw it out!

If you can't possibly fit another thing in your fridge and something falls out every time you open the door then it is probably time to clean it out. Get rid of old or questionable foods. This is also a great time for a quick wipe down to assure cleanliness.

Recommended Food Storage Chart

The following charts provide general recommended storage times from date of purchase for various food products stored under optimum conditions. Storage generally is not recommended under conditions where no time is listed in the chart. For maximum shelf-life, consumers should always purchase fresh food and never temperature abuse food.
Food Pantry (Room Temperature) Refrigerator (33F to 40F) Freezer (0F)
Bread and Cereal Products
Baked quick breads 4-5 days 1-2 weeks 2-3 months
Bread 5-7 days 1-2 weeks 3 months
Bread crumbs and croutons 6 months
Bread rolls, unbaked 2-3 weeks 1 month
Cereals, ready-to-eat 1 year
2-3 months*
Cereals, ready-to-cook 6 months
Corn meal 1 year 18 months 2 years
Doughnuts 4-5 days 3 months
Flour, cake, all-purpose 1 year 1-2 years
Flour, whole wheat 6-8 months 1-2 years
Pasta 2 years
Pies and pastries 3 days 4-6 months
Pies and pastries, baked 1-2 months
Pies and pastries, cream filled 2-3 days 3 months
Pizza 3-4 days 1-2 months
Rice, brown 6 months
Rice, white 1 year 6-7 days+ 6 months+
Tacos, enchiladas, and burritos (frozen) 2 weeks 1 year
Waffles 4-5 days 1 month
Packaged Foods and Mixes
Biscuit, brownie, and muffin mixes 9 months
Cakes, prepared 2-4 days 2-3 months
Cake mixes 6-9 months
Casserole mix 9-12 months
Chili powder 6 months
Cookies, packaged 2 months 8-12 months
Crackers, pretzels 3 months
Frosting, canned 3 months
Frosting, mix 8 months
Fruit cake 2-3 months 1 year
Hot roll mix 18 months
Instant breakfast products 6 months
Pancake and piecrust mix 6 months
Pancake waffle batter 1-2 days 3 months
Toaster pastries 3 months
Sauce and gravy mixes 6 months
Soup mixes 1 year
Spices, Herbs, Condiments, Extracts
Catsup, chili, and cocktail sauce 1 year
1 month*

6 months
Herbs 6 months 1-2 years
Herb/spice blends 2 years
1 year *
1-2 years
Mustard 2 years 6-8 months* 8-12 months
Spices, ground 6 months 1-2 years
Spices, whole 1-2 years 2-3 years
Vanilla extract 2 years
1 year*
Other extracts 1 year
Other Food Staples
Bacon bits 4 months
Baking powder 18 months
Baking soda 2 years
Bouillon products 1 year
Carbonated soft drinks (12 oz. cans) 6-9 months
Carbonated soft drinks, diet (12 oz. cans) 3-4 months
Chocolate, premelted 1 year
Chocolate syrup 2 years 6 months*
Chocolate, semisweet 2 years
Chocolate, unsweetened 18 months
Cocoa mixes 8 months
Coconut, shredded 1 year
6 months*
8 months 1 year
Coffee cans 2 years
2 weeks*
2 months 6 months
Coffee, instant 6 months
2 weeks*
Coffee, vacuum-packed 1 year ^
Coffee lighteners (dry) 9 months
6 months*
1 year
Cornstarch 18 months 2 years
Gelatin 18 months
Honey, jams, jellies, and syrup 1 year 6-8 months*
Marshmallows 2-3 months
Marshmallow cream 3-4 months
Mayonnaise 2-3 months 12 months
2 months*
Molasses 2 years
Nuts, shelled 4 months 6 months
Nuts, unshelled 6 months
Nuts, salted 6-8 months
Nuts, unsalted 9-12 months
Oil, salad 3 months^
2 months*
Parmesan grated cheese 10 months
2 months*
Pasteurized process cheese spread 3 months 3-4 weeks* 4 months
Peanut butter 6 months
2-3 months*
Popcorn 1-2 years 2 years 2-3 years
Pectin 1 year
Salad dressings, bottled 1 year^ 3 months*
Soft drinks 3 months
Artificial sweetener 2 years
Sugar, brown 4 months
Sugar, confectioners 18 months
Sugar, granulated 2 years
Tea bags 18 months
Tea, instant 2 years
Vegetable oils 6 months
1-3 months*
Vegetable shortening 3 months 6-9 months
Vinegar 2 years
1 year*
Water, bottled 1-2 years
Whipped topping (dry) 1 year
Yeast, dry Pkg. exp. date
Asparagus 2-3 days 8 months
Beets 2 weeks
Broccoli 3-5 days
Brussels sprouts 3-5 days
Cabbage 1 week
Carrots 2 weeks
Cauliflower 1 week
Celery 1 week
Corn (husks) 1-2 days 8 months
Cucumbers 1 week
Eggplant 1 week
Green beans 1-2 days 8 months
Green peas 3-5 days 8 months
Lettuce 1 week
Lima beans 3-5 days 8 months
Mushrooms 2 days
Onions 1 week 3-5 days
Onion rings (precooked, frozen) 1 year#
Peppers 1 week
Pickles, canned 1 year 1 month*
Frozen potatoes 8 month
Sweet potatoes 2-3 weeks
White potatoes 2-3 months
Potato chips 1 month
Radishes 2 weeks
Rhubarb 3-5 days
Rutabagas 1 week
Snap beans 1 week
Spinach 5-7 days 8 months
Squash, Summer 3-5 days
Squash, Winter 1 week
Tomatoes 1 week
Turnips 2 weeks
Commercial baby food, jars 1-2 years^ 2-3 days
Canned vegetables 1 year^ 1-4 days*
Canned vegetables, pickled 1 year^ 1-2 months*
Dried vegetables 6 months
Frozen vegetables 8 months
Vegetable soup 3-4 days 3 months
Apples Until ripe 1 month
Apricots Until ripe 5 days
Avocados Until ripe 5 days
Bananas Until ripe 5 days (fully ripe)
Berries Until ripe 3 days 1 year
Canned fruit 1 year 2-4 days*
Canned fruit juices 1 year 3-4 days*
Cherries Until ripe 3 days
Citrus fruit Until ripe 2 weeks
Dried fruit 6 months 2-4 days+
Frozen fruit 1 year
Fruit juice concentrate 6 days 1 year
Fruit pies, baked 2-3 days 8 months
Grapes Until ripe 5 days
Melons Until ripe 5 days
Nectarines Until ripe 5 days
Peaches Until ripe 5 days 1 year
Pears Until ripe 5 days 1 year
Pineapple Until ripe 5-7 days 1 year
Plums Until ripe 5 days
Dairy Products
Butter 1-2 months 9 months
Buttermilk 2 weeks
Cottage cheese 1 week 3 months
Cream cheese 2 weeks
Cream-light, heavy, half- and-half 3-4 days 1-4 months
Eggnog commercial 3-5 days 6 months
Margarine 4-5 months 12 months
Condensed, evaporated and dry milk 12-23 months^ 8-20 days*
Milk 8-20 days
Ice cream and sherbet 2 months
Hard natural cheese (e.g. cheddar, swiss) 3-6 months
4 weeks*
6 months
Hard natural cheese, sliced 2 weeks
Processed cheese 1 month 6 months
Soft cheese (e.g. brie) 1 week 6 months
Pudding 1-2 days*
Snack dips 1 week*
Sour cream 2 weeks
Non-dairy whipped cream, canned 3 months
Real whipped cream, canned 3-4 weeks
Yogurt 2 weeks 1-2 months
Meats, Poultry, Eggs and Fish
Fresh beef and bison steaks 3-5 days 6-9 months
Fresh beef and bison roasts 3-5 days 9-12 months
Fresh pork chops 2-3 days 4-6 months
Fresh lamb chops 3-5 days 6-8 months
Fresh veal 1-2 days 4-6 months
Fresh ground meat (e.g. beef, bison, veal, lamb) 1 day 3-4 months
Cooked meat 2-3 days 2-3 months
Canned meat 1 year 3-4 days* 3-4 months
Ham, whole 1 week 1-2 months
Ham, canned 1 year 1 week* 3-4 months
Ham, canned "keep refrigerated" 6-9 months
1 week*

3-4 months
Shelf-stable unopened canned meat (e.g. chili, deviled ham, corn beef) 1 year 1week*
Ham, cook before eating 1 week
Ham, fully cooked 2 weeks
1 week*
Ham, dry-cured 1 year 1 month
Ham salad, store prepared or homemade 3-5 days
Bacon 2 weeks
1 week*
1 month
Corned beef, uncooked 5-7 days 1-2 months
Restructured (flaked) meat products 9-12 months
Sausage, fresh 1-2 days 1-2 months
Smoked breakfast sausage links, patties 1 week 2 months
Sausage, smoked (e.g. Mettwurst) 1 week 1-2 months
Sausage, semi-dry (e.g. Summer sausage) 2-3 weeks* 6 months
Sausage, dry smoked (e.g. Pepperoni, jerky, dry Salami) 1 year 1 month* 6 months
Frankfurters, bologna 2 weeks
3-5 days*
1-2 months
Luncheon meat 2 weeks
3-5 days*
1 month
Meat gravies 1-2 days 2-3 months
TV beef and pork dinners 18 months#
Meat based casseroles 3-4 days 4 months
Variety meats (giblets, tongue, liver, heart, etc.) 1-2 days 3-4 months
Vinegar pickled meats (e.g. pickled pigs feet) 1 year^ 2 weeks*
Breaded fish 4-6 months
Canned fish 1 year 1-2 days*
Cooked fish or seafood 3-4 days 3 months
Lean fish (e.g. cod, flounder, haddock) 1-2 days 6 months
Fatty fish (e.g. bluefish, salmon, mackeral) 1-2 days 2-3 months
Dry pickled fish 3-4 weeks
Smoked fish 2 weeks 4-5 weeks
Seafood-clams, crab, lobster in shell 2 days 3 months
Seafood-oysters and scallops 1-2 days 3-4 months
Seafood-shrimp 1-2 days 1 year
Seafood-shucked clams 1-2 days 3-6 months
Tuna salad, store prepared or homemade 3-5 days
Poultry and Eggs
Chicken nuggets or patties 1-2 days
Chicken livers 1-2 days 3 months
Chicken and poultry TV dinners 6 months
Canned poultry^ 1 year 1 day*
Cooked poultry 2-3 days 4-6 months
Fresh poultry 1 day 1 year
Frozen poultry parts 6-9 months
Canned poultry 1 day 3 months
Poultry pies, stews, and gravies 1-2 days 6 months
Poultry salads, store prepared or homemade 3-5 days
Poultry stuffing, cooked 3-4 days 1 month
Eggs, in shell 3-5 weeks
Eggs, hard-boiled 1 week
Eggs, pasteurized 10 days
3 days*
1 year
Egg substitute 10 days
3 days*
1 year
Egg yolks (covered in water) 2-4 days 1 year
Egg whites (For each cup of egg yolk add 1 Tbs. of sugar or salt) 2-4 days 1 year
Wild Game
Frog legs 1 day 6-9 months
Game birds 2 days 9 months
Small game (rabbit, squirrel, etc.) 2 days 9-12 months
Venison ground meat 1-2 days 2-3 months
Venison steaks and roasts 3-5 days 9-12 months

From Virginia Cooperative Extension

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