Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Eating Leftovers - Really!

Purchase "sandwich-size" square plastic storage containers with lids at the store. They are approximately 5 inches square and 1.5 inches deep. Use these containers to hold single servings of leftovers.

For instance, instead of putting all the leftover pasta in one bowl and the leftover sauce in another, put them together in single-serving-size portions into these square containers (see picture below for an example). Use masking tape (easy to remove later) and a sharpie marker to put a "last day to use" date on them. These can then be grabbed by the hubby on his way out the door to work in the morning, or by hungry kids who are tired of PB&J. Because they're clear, it's easy to see what is in them.

At our house, we have a "Leftovers Night" each week. With leftovers seperated into single serving-size containers, everyone can grab their own and heat it in its own container. Less dishes, less mess, and a much greater chance that leftovers will get eaten! :)

When leftovers are near their "last day to use" date and you don't anticipate using them before they "expire," you can toss these containers into the freezer. Just be sure to heat them all the way thru. No food gone to waste! I've also used this method with chicken breasts, along with rice and veggies in the same container. The vast majority of leftovers can be stored using this method, and will help eliminate food waste and save money!

For safety's sake, refer to the information below from on using leftovers safely:

Storing Leftovers

All cooked foods should be reheated to 165° F, refrigerated, or frozen within 2 hours after cooking. In hot weather, that time limit is only 1 hour. Remember that the "safe" period starts after the food is cooked. It includes the time that the food sits before being served and the time it sits on the table while the meal is being eaten. This period lasts until the food is actually in the refrigerator or freezer.

Remember to wash your hands with soap and water before handling any cooked food, especially food you store to eat later. Use clean utensils to handle the food, and store it in clean containers. Do not put food back into the same container it was in before it was cooked, unless you have carefully cleaned the container with soap and water. Do not place food on a counter or cutting board before refrigerating or freezing, unless you have carefully cleaned the surface beforehand.

You should place foods to be refrigerated or frozen in small, shallow containers, 3 inches tall or less, and cover them completely. Don't stack these containers right next to other containers, but leave some air space around them. By using shallow containers and by leaving air space around the containers you can promote rapid, even cooling of the food. When you refrigerate or freeze cooked food in a large, deep container, the food in the center of the container remains warm for a longer time. Dangerous bacteria may grow in this warm spot without making the food look or smell bad. If you eat this food later, you may get food poisoning.

Never taste leftovers that are of questionable age or safety. As a general rule, never keep leftovers for more than 4 days.

Remember to remove the stuffing from cooked poultry and refrigerate or freeze it separately. You should do this because the stuffing in the center of the bird can stay warm long enough for food poisoning bacteria to grow. By removing the stuffing and placing it in its own container, you allow it to cool more rapidly.

If you date leftovers before refrigerating them, this can help you ensure they don't remain in your refrigerator too long.

When leftover foods are reheated, make sure you heat them completely. Leftovers that are merely "warmed" and not heated throughout are much more likely to cause food poisoning. Cover any leftover sauces, soups, gravies, and other "wet" foods, and heat them to a rolling boil before they are served. Heat all other foods to 165° F throughout. Be sure to stir foods while you reheat them, to ensure that all the food reaches the appropriate temperature.

Throwing Away Leftovers

When leftovers have been in the refrigerator too long or if they look or smell unusual, throw them out! Anytime you are in doubt about the freshness or safety of any food, dispose of it. This is especially important for leftover foods. Dispose of any potentially unsafe food in a garbage disposal or a tightly wrapped package, so that it cannot be eaten by other people or animals.

If you follow these suggestions for handling leftover foods safely, you will improve the safety of your family's food. Food poisoning is a preventable tragedy, and you can prevent it by following these simple guidelines for handling leftovers safely.

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