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A term commonly used to describe the excess food that is remaining after being prepared for a meal, snack, or a similar food event. If leftovers are to be kept for future use, they should be stored in a refrigerator or freezer in order to keep the foods from becoming unsafe for consumption. After foods have been prepared with heat and are to be stored as leftovers, it is necessary to reduce the temperature of the leftovers as quickly as possible. There are several ways to accomplish this without leaving the food exposed to warm temperatures for too long of a time, thus cooling too slowly and allowing harmful bacteria to begin to grow. The leftovers can be slowly cooled by placing remaining food items in the refrigerator in shallow containers with lids that are not tightly closed immediately. Once they have chilled sufficiently, they can then be tightly covered and kept for several days or frozen for keeping longer. Foods can be quickly cooled by placing the food in containers and the immersing them in cold water. If the food is in a large container, it may take too long to cool by simply leaving it out on a counter, so it is best to divide the food into smaller portions and begin the cooling process as soon as possible. Food items that are very hot can remain at room temperature for cooling for 30 minutes or less before they are refrigerated.

As a general guide, leftover foods such as meat, fish, poultry, pasta, and eggs may be kept refrigerated for 3 to 5 days, depending on previous care. Foods that have been prepared and have remained for 1 to 2 hours in temperatures ranging from 40º F to 140º F have the potential to grow bacteria and become unsafe for consumption. Therefore, keep leftovers safe by cooling them quickly and refrigerate them as soon as possible to keep them free from harmful bacteria growth.

Freezing foods (storing at 0ºF or below) enables the leftovers to be kept for considerably longer periods of time ranging from one to several months after which they begin to deteriorate in flavor and texture. When freezing foods, make sure they are wrapped or stored in airtight containers for best results. After they are thawed, they should be consumed within 2 to 3 days.

As a general rule, use an appliance thermometer to periodically check temperatures in refrigerators and freezers to assure they are adequately cooling foods. It is also important to make sure foods are not packed tightly into refrigerated areas, since cool air should circulate around the food to keep it safe.

Before using leftovers, examine the food for any harmful changes. Common occurrences such as color changes (browning or whitening), excess slime, drying out, cracking, ice crystal formations, mold, dissolving fluids, and rancid odors are all indications a harmful change may have occurred requiring disposal of the food. Although appearance may indicate problems with the food, never trust a sense of smell, feel or sight to totally insure proper inspection, because food can spoil without showing indications that bacteria is present. Therefore, always discard food that may be questionable. When reheating leftovers, make sure the food is rapidly heated to a temperature of 74ºC (165ºF). Liquids such as soups, sauces and gravies should be heated to a boiling point rapidly before being served.

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