How To Safely Store And Reheat Leftovers

Baking and cooking for others can be overwhelming: You spend so much time searching for the perfect recipes — raiding your recipe box and scouring the internet. Next comes the dreaded grocery shopping trip, and then you get your hands dirty with the actual cooking and baking. Suddenly, the guests arrive and the gorging begins. Everyone eats, drinks and they're merry — and then, just like that, it's over and you're left with trays of food.

How long can you store the beef tenderloin? Should you just throw the chip dip out? How about the cookies? Can they go in the freezer, and if so, for how long? It would be a serious shame to waste any of your hard work, but the good news is that leftovers can provide some delicious, easy meals.

Here's what you should know about properly storing them so you can keep on enjoying the fruits of your labor long after your special dinner.

Food Safety Tips to Keep in Mind When Storing Leftovers:

  • When you're making your shopping list and checking it twice, add storage bags and plenty of airtight containers — you will need them for leftovers! Pack leftovers in bags and containers of various sizes and send them home with guests.
  • Clean out your fridge and freezer the week before the craziness. Try to use up the food you already have before shopping again, then give the fridge a good scrubbing so that it's ready to be packed full of leftovers.
  • Store all food in the fridge or freezer within two hours of cooking.
  • Any dips, including salsa and guacamole, that have been sitting out for more than two hours should be thrown out. Dips with dairy, cheese, or raw produce are susceptible to dangerous bacteria growth when exposed to the air for long periods of time.
  • Foods that have been touched or handled by many people, like the chips in the community chip bowl, should be tossed.
  • Wash your hands with hot soap and water before you begin storing food.

How to Safely Store Leftovers:

  • Begin with airtight packaging and wrapping. This is key as airtight containers will stop bacteria from getting in and to prevent the food from taking on any odors you might have in the fridge.
  • According to the USDA, you can safely store your leftovers in the fridge for three to four days. In the freezer, they're good for three to four months.
  • Store food in shallow containers — about three inches tall or less. This allows the food to cool quickly and prevents dangerous bacteria growth.
  • Label all leftovers with a "throw away" date.
  • If there is only a little bit of leftover food, consider saving it and using it for another recipe instead of throwing it away.
  • Download this free tip sheet on what not to freeze and quick freezing tips. It's a handy guide to hang on your fridge.

How to Reheat Your Leftovers:

  • When you reheat leftovers from the fridge, only heat the food you will actually be eating — not the entire container.
  • Make sure whatever you reheat is warmed evenly. If you are using an oven or stovetop, use a thermometer to ensure that your leftovers are heated to 165 degrees. If you use a microwave, turn the plate often to make sure your food is heated evenly. Always cover food when warming it to help retain the moisture and flavor.
  • If you reheat food from the freezer, it is not necessary to thaw it first. However, you can thaw frozen food in the fridge overnight and then cook it the next day for a faster heating time.
  • If your food smells funky, toss it. It's not worth taking the risk of getting sick. "When in doubt, throw it out!"

Bonus! Here's a great recipe to use up those leftover mashed sweet potatoes sitting in your fridge:

Leftover Sweet Potato Waffles

This is the perfect recipe for small amounts of leftovers that aren't enough to reheat for a meal or freeze. It's also great for the morning after the meal topped with an egg.


  • 1 cup of leftover mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon


Combine all of your dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

In a small bowl, mix all wet ingredients, except the mashed sweet potatoes.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until all of the lumps are removed.

Add sweet potato mush to the waffle mix and gently fold in until it is all combined. (Try not to over-whisk.)

Spray your waffle maker with non-stick cooking spray.

Add batter to the waffle maker and cook until lightly brown.

Sommer Poquette of Green and Clean Mom writes on green choices and lifestyle topics, including food storage, recipes, and energy-saving refrigerators. Visit The Home Depot to see a wide selection of refrigerator options that make it easy to store your holiday leftovers.