Ways To Tell If Your Leftovers Are Still OK To Eat

Ways to Tell If Your Leftovers Are Still OK to Eat

When you reach into your refrigerator to nosh on those moo shu pork leftovers, you probably first check to see if it's still "OK" to eat, right? Give it a sniff, look for any signs of mold, and if it passes the smell and sight test, next comes taste. But food safety isn't always that simple, and a miscalculation in the slightest can result in a nasty, unwanted case of food poisoning. Knowing how long and what to check for can save you from unpleasant foodborne illnesses.

The first step is to always look for obvious signs of mold, texture changes, or unpleasant smells. Next, consider time and temperature. All food has a shelf life. Bacteria growth is slowed in the cold temperatures of your fridge, but a staggering 25 percent of refrigerators in the U.S. are kept at unsafe temperatures (above 40 degrees F). Regularly check the temperature of your fridge with a thermometer and adjust the settings accordingly to prevent unwanted food spoilage.

When storing leftovers, make sure you cool them down to at least 40 degrees F within two hours. An ice bath is a great way to do this without the risk of raising the temperature of your fridge or freezer with hot food. Finally, different foods just last longer than others, which is why we have broken down just how long you can safely eat these leftovers.

Cooked Food

Leftover, cooked foods should be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container and eaten within four to five days. Food, whether cooked or not, should not be left at room temperature for more than four hours, otherwise the risk of food poisoning increases. If foods are in an abnormally hot room, then the time should be greatly reduced as bacteria grow in warmer temperatures. When storing food in the refrigerator or freezer, make sure it's in an airtight container or bag.

Prepared Salads

These salads, like tuna or chicken, can generally be stored for up to three or four days in the refrigerator.


Fruits and vegetables that are more likely to absorb moisture tend to have a shorter shelf-life. Berries, corn, mushrooms, and leafy greens usually keep for a couple days in the fridge. Produce with a skin will last longer; apples, squash, beets, potatoes, and shallots will last a week or more.


Leftover washed lettuce can be stored in a similar fashion to herbs, wrapped in paper towel and placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three or four days.


When buying fresh mushrooms, generally you want to choose ones that are firm. You can refrigerate them for up to five days as long as they are stored properly — wrapped in a paper towel and then sealed inside a plastic bag.

Fresh Beans/Peas

Depending on the variety, they can be kept, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.


Once cut into, onions should be tightly wrapped and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and used within four days.


Stored in a cool, dark place, generally most potatoes will keep for up to two weeks, while new potatoes should be used within a few days.


Unopened condiments can last for up to two years, but if you are considering ways to use up that opened homemade barbecue sauce, you have about six months to finish the jar.

Peanut Butter

An open container of peanut butter will last in the pantry for about three months, but if you store it in the fridge, you can add another three to four months to its shelf life.


The shelf life of jam is directly related to its sugar content. The higher the sugar content the longer the fruit preserves will keep without a noticeable loss in flavor. Most jams will last between six months and a year from the date the jar was originally opened.  


This life-saver ingredient adds flavor to our salad dressingsmarinades, and sandwiches, but it only lasts so long stored in a refrigerator's conditions. Luckily, you have a year to consume most commercially made mustards that are stored in a refrigerator.

Soy Sauce

You should have plenty of time to finish off that bottle of opened soy sauce, since its shelf life is around three years when stored in the fridge.


It is crucial to store dairy properly in the fridge to keep it from spoiling. While the door of the fridge is a popular place to store milk, the fluctuating temperatures from the opening and closing door can cause milk to sour faster. (With an already short shelf life of around seven days, it may be best to store milk and other dairy products on a shelf.)


Fresh eggs should always be refrigerated if not used immediately because they lose quality quickly when stored at room temperature. While best used within a week, they can be stored for up to three to four weeks in the refrigerator. (Try to avoid placing them near smelly ingredients like onions or garlic because they easily absorb odors.) Cooked eggs should be used within one week.


There are certain cheeses like gorgonzola or Roquefort that have mold that is safe to eat, but never eat mold on soft or fresh cheeses like Brie or mozzarella — they should be immediately thrown away. These types of cheeses can generally be stored tightly wrapped and in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. (The bottom drawers or coldest part of your refrigerator are generally the best places to store these types of cheese.)

For semi-soft or firm cheeses like Cheddar or Gouda, if mold appears, then remove the mold (and the chunk that surrounds it) and tightly rewrap and store. These types of cheeses can be kept for two to three weeks in the refrigerator. (They don't need to be in the coldest part of the refrigerator.)


Don't toss this delicious and healthy snack too soon. Yogurt lasts between seven and 10 days past the sell-by date printed on the package.


In general, meat will last three to four days in the fridge once cooked. Make sure you cool and store your leftover dinner of steak or chicken in the fridge within two hours of cooking. As always, look for visible signs of spoilage. If it doesn't look or smell right, don't eat it.

Poultry/Ground Meats/Stew Meats/Lamb or Pork Chops

These raw ingredients can be kept, wrapped well, in the refrigerator for one to two days. Cooked poultry, ground meats, lamb, and pork are generally safe to eat for three to four days as long as they are properly stored in the refrigerator.

Steak/Roasts/Large Cuts of Meat

These cuts of meat can be kept for up to three to four days in the refrigerator as long as they are wrapped tightly. Same goes for cooked steaks and roasts.


Most seafood is best consumed as fresh as possible and should only be refrigerated for up to two days before use. Three to four days is the safe range of time to eat cooked seafood.


Whether live or shucked, mussels should be refrigerated and used in one to two days.


Raw crabmeat should be cooked within a day of the crab dying, while pasteurized or canned crabmeat should be eaten within four days of opening.


Lobster should be cooked live or killed immediately before cooking. (Quick tip: When buying a whole cooked lobster, make sure that the tail is curled, which is a sign that it was alive when cooked — meaning it's very fresh). Once cooked, lobster has a shelf life of about four days.


Live oysters can be refrigerated for up to three days, though the fresher they are, the better they'll taste. Shucked oysters can be refrigerated and used within two days.


Raw scallops and shrimp should be tightly covered, refrigerated, and used within two days. Cooked shrimp can be refrigerated for up to three days.


When it comes to storing cereal grains, be sure to keep them in a cool, dark location for optimal shelf life. Flour and rice might have a long shelf life, but they won't last forever. Keep sealed in airtight containers to prevent bugs from contaminating your food.


Flour can be stored for up to six months at room temperature because higher temperatures create a hospitable environment to bugs and mold. (It's not a bad idea to store it inside a plastic bag just to be safe in case you forget to throw it out in time.)


No matter what type of rice, it should be stored in a cool, dark place (much like oils, wine, and spices). White rice can be stored almost indefinitely, while brown rice will only keep up to six months.