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How long do leftovers last & how should you store them?

Last Updated: November 5, 2021

Need a quick refresher on how long those leftovers are safe to eat? Keep reading to learn more about the right ways to store leftovers and the best food storage options for food freshness and convenience.

Storing leftover food is a great way to stretch your meal planning budget to cover multiple meals, avoid food waste, and ensure you have plenty of healthy, homemade meal options ready to eat throughout the week. But even expert meal savers and preppers sometimes have questions about food safety.

Food-borne illnesses are a major concern when it comes to storing fresh foods, and it’s important to be well-versed in the best practices for storing leftovers to keep you and your family safe.

Need a quick refresher on how long those leftovers are safe to eat? Keep reading to learn more about the right ways to store leftovers and the best food storage options for food freshness and convenience.

How long do leftovers actually last?

Image of tacos.

Most leftovers can be stored safely in the refrigerator for about three to four days, according to the Mayo Clinic.

This guideline includes:

  • Most cooked meats and poultry
  • Cooked vegetables and soups
  • Leftover pizza
  • Cold salads

Raw poultry or sausage should only spend one to two days in the refrigerator. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommends any packaged food be thrown out after seven days.

Grove Tip

Label your leftovers

Bacteria in contaminated leftovers won’t necessarily change the taste, look, or smell of a food, so it’s a good idea to label leftover foods with the date they were stored and throw them out if there’s any doubt about their safety.

Is there any way to make leftovers last longer?

Freezing food is the main way to make it last significantly longer.

  • Most cooked meats will last in the freezer for two to six months.
  • Raw poultry will stay good for nine months to one year in the freezer, depending on whether it’s whole or in pieces.
  • Steaks, chops, and roasts can be frozen for four to six months.

Once food is thawed, bacteria can begin to grow, so be sure to follow refrigerator storage guidelines after defrosting.

Additionally, don’t allow leftovers or defrosting foods to sit out at room temperature. Foods should always be eaten or refrigerated promptly.

Is it better to store leftovers in glass or plastic containers?

Image of a glass bottle next to a reusable bag and lemons

Glass and plastic food storage containers are both popular options for keeping leftovers fresh.

Glass containers may come with a few added benefits, such as:

  • Increased durability
  • Greater sustainability/better for the planet
  • Increased heat resistance

Both types of containers will help food stay fresh and are safe to use; however, experts say if you’re using plastic containers, it’s important to choose containers that are free of phthalates and the chemical BPA.

Sustainability is also an important factor to consider. About half of plastics produced are designed to be used only once, and single-use plastics, like traditional sandwich bags and other disposable food storage options, contribute to pollution in waterways and landfills.

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Grove Tip

What are phthalates and BPA?

Phthalates, which are added to plastic to make it more flexible, can be transmitted to the body when people eat or drink items that have been in contact with them.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions people can be exposed to an industrial chemical compound C15H16O2 that is a component especially of hard plastics (such as polycarbonate) and epoxy resins. via products that contain it. BPA is short for bisphenol A and it is “an industrial chemical compound C15H16O2 that is a component especially of hard plastics (such as polycarbonate) and epoxy resins.

What are the 5 best food storage containers for leftovers?

For quickly wrapping up produce and lunch items, recycled aluminum foil is always a good option.

But if you’re looking for other fresh food storage options that are functional, innovative, and more earth-friendly, here are five top-rated options for meal prep to Thanksgiving leftovers.

Image of a woman holding Le Parfait Glass Storage with berries and liquid inside.

1. Le Parfait Glass Storage and Canning Jars

Store soups, sauces, jams, and pickled foods in these durable and beautiful jars made from all-natural materials.

Le Parfait jars are food safe, heat safe, leak proof, and 100% recyclable. Many members also use them to conveniently store dry pantry items, like pasta, beans, and baking supplies.

Image of 3 grove co reusable bags.

2. Grove Co. Reusable Bag Variety Pack

These Grove member favorites are made of durable, food-safe, reusable, phthalate-free, and bpa-free plastic.

They come in three convenient sizes: snack, sandwich, and storage size. And, since they’re freezer safe, leakproof, and dishwasher safe, they’re an ideal choice for storing leftovers while reducing single-use plastics and food waste.

Image of a pizza on bees wrap next to tomatoes in a cup

3. Bee’s Wrap XXL Roll Wrap

Replace single-use plastic wrap with this natural and reusable alternative. Bee’s Wrap is made of Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton, beeswax, jojoba oil, and tree resin and produced using renewable energy.

It’s BPA-free, completely reusable, and can be custom cut to fit fresh vegetables, cheeses, sandwiches, or over the tops of containers.

Image of multiple UKonserve storage containers.

4. U-Konserve To-Go Medium Container

This stainless steel food container is BPA-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, and plastic-free. And, at 30-ounces, it’s big enough for takeout, salads, and other larger food items.

The light stainless steel is safe for both the refrigerator and the dishwasher, plus other U-Konserve containers come in a range of sizes and have tare weights so they’re ideal companions for bulk shopping.

Image of Stasher Reusable Stand-Up Mega Bag with corn

5. Stasher Reusable Stand-Up Mega Bag

Looking for a reusable storage option for larger items, like lettuce, fresh meats, and bulk produce? The Mega Bag by Stasher is a reusable, 100% food-grade silicone option that’s safe for microwaves, freezers, and in the dishwasher.

Grove members love its stand-up design that makes it ideal for holding liquids and other items without toppling over. Stasher offers other silicone bags in a variety of sizes as well.

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