How Long Can I Keep Leftovers?

I have to share a funny story about visiting my in-laws.  I can remember many years ago (maybe 2001 or so) I was having dinner over at their house, and my mother-in-law took out a dish of Tupperware from the freezer filled with cole slaw.  It was labeled with a Sharpie, “1995″.  I asked her if the cole slaw was in the freezer a while and she said,” well, yes, but it’s fine.  It’s been in the freezer….” I then nicely tried to tell her that there are limits to how long you can store food, even in the freezer, but she didn’t really want to hear it. (In her defense, the 1995 was probably permanent on the container and the cole slaw wasn’t really 6 years old, maybe a year tops…or maybe I’m just pacifying myself and it really was 6 years old, who knows?)

I must admit, I am on the opposite side of the spectrum.  I am quite a bacteria-phobe when it comes to food.  I label many jars in my fridge with a black Sharpie and note the date that I opened it.  If the jar says, “use within 7 days of opening” I know exactly when I opened it and I throw it in the garbage on that 8th day (hummus and spaghetti sauce both spoil in this time-frame, FYI).  I label sandwich meat, deli cheese, pretty much everything that will spoil within one month. Some foods, however, will last a few months like BBQ sauce and salad dressings.  I don’t worry too much about those.

So if you are wondering how long you can store leftovers in your refrigerator, and still have me over for dinner, here is a handy dandy list (source: the ADA).

  • Cooked Vegetables – 3-4 days
  • Cooked Pasta -  3-5 days
  • Cooked Rice -  1 week
  • Deli Meats -  5 Days
  • Soups and Stews -  3-4 days
  • Ham -  3-4 days
  • Cooked beef, poultry, pork, and fish -  3-4 days
  • Cooked seafood -  2 days
  • Meat in gravy -  1-2 days

Some additional Food Safety info:

You can store meat in a freezer for up to six months.

You can store fruits and vegetables for up to a year (freezer).

Don’t re-freeze meat once you’ve completely thawed it.

Don’t thaw meats on a counter.  Only use the refrigerator or microwave for thawing (or running water for 5 to 10 minutes).

Use separate cutting boards for meat.

Also note if there is anything on the item that states spoilage instructions such as  “Use within 5 days of opening” or something along those lines,….start using a Sharpie.

About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

Leave a Reply