Food safety tips for leftovers

Many people enjoy eating leftovers from holiday festivities, family gatherings or from dining out. However, leftovers need to be properly handled. Here are some basic food safety tips to help keep leftovers safe.

Handling leftovers

  • Before and after handling leftovers, wash your hands with hot soapy water, as well as all utensils, dishes and work surfaces.
  • For added protection, you may want to sanitize utensils, dishes and work surfaces. Normal household sanitizers or a mild bleach solution (5 ml/1 tsp. bleach per 750 ml/3 cups water) may be used
  • Keep foods out of the danger zone, between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Throw away any cooked food left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Never rely on your nose, eyes or taste buds to judge the safety of food. You cannot tell if food is contaminated by its look, smell or taste.
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

Cooling leftovers

  • Refrigerate all leftovers promptly in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly.
  • Very hot items can first be cooled at room temperature. Refrigerate once steaming stops.
  • Leave the lid off or wrap loosely until the food is cooled to refrigeration temperature.
  • Avoid overstocking the refrigerator to allow cool air to circulate freely.

Storing leftovers

  • Always use a clean container to hold the leftovers, or wrap the leftovers in leak-proof plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination. Keep different types of leftovers separate.
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 3 days, or freeze them for later use.
  • Date leftovers to help identify the contents and to ensure they are not stored too long.

Defrosting leftovers

  • Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Ensure food is properly sealed.
  • Consume or cook the leftovers immediately after they have thawed.


  • Place the container or platter on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to avoid leakage on other foods during thawing.


  • Before defrosting, remove food from any packaging or containers not identified as microwave-safe (such as plastic wrap, freezer cartons, and Styrofoam trays). Only use containers and wraps that are labelled as microwave safe.
  • Use the defrost setting of your microwave and make sure leftovers are completely defrosted before reheating.
  • Use or eat the leftovers immediately after defrosting. Don't re-freeze foods that you've defrosted in the microwave.

Reheating leftovers

  • Reheat leftovers to a safe internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
  • Use a digital food thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Bring gravies, soups and sauces to a full, rolling boil and stir during the process.
  • Discard uneaten leftovers after they have been reheated.

Reheating in a microwave

  • Use only containers and plastic wrap designed for use in the microwave.
  • Loosen the lid or wrap to allow steam to escape.
  • Stop the microwave midway through reheating and stir the food so that the heat is evenly distributed.
  • Rotate the plate several times during cooking if your microwave does not have a rotating tray.

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