10 Smart Tips to Keep Your Restaurant Leftovers Safe
Kenneth King, Public Affairs Specialist, Food Safety Education Staff
Life is getting back to normal with more people being vaccinated and meeting friends at restaurants. Bringing home leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day is becoming ordinary again. Don’t invite bacteria to your next meal. Here are some food safety tips so you can enjoy your restaurant leftovers without getting foodborne illness.
- If you plan to go to a movie or be out and about after eating at a restaurant, then you should skip taking the leftovers.
- Perishable foods should be brought directly home because the faster food gets into the refrigerator, the lower likelihood of bacterial growth.
- Meat and poultry leftovers that are handled properly may be safely refrigerated at 40 F up to 4 days. Eggs and lunch meats that are handled properly may be safely stored at 40 F up to 5 days.
- For best quality, cooked meat and poultry leftovers in sealed containers may be stored in the freezer at 0 F or below for 2 to 6 months.
- If you reheat all of your leftovers but don’t finish the entire portion, refrigerate what’s left immediately so it can be safely reheated again.
- When reheating in the microwave, place foods on a microwave safe plate. Food items should be spread evenly and stirred halfway through heating to avoid cold spots.
- Warning—reheating in slow cookers isn’t recommended because foods may be sitting too long in the "Danger Zone" (40 F - 140 F).
- When reheating meat and poultry in the oven, the temperature should be no lower than 325 F.
- When reheating leftovers, use a food thermometer to check the food’s internal temperature. The food is safe to eat once it reaches 165 F.
- Soups, sauces, gravies, etc., should be reheated to a boil.
And a word of caution—never taste food to determine its safety. You can’t see or taste harmful bacteria. When in doubt, throw it out!
For more information about food safety, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.