After a delicious meal, most of us want to relax and enjoy spending time with family and friends. The last thing on our mind is cleanup and packing away leftovers. It can wait, right? Actually, no. The longer leftovers sit after a meal, the more likely bacteria, viruses, or parasites will grow and your family will be at risk of food poisoning
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food poisoning affects around 48 million people each year. The majority of these illnesses are the result of disease-causing germs. Leftovers are a likely culprit for many cases of food poisoning. When food is left out after being prepared, it can grow bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
Leaving leftovers out in the kitchen is not the only risk. If leftovers are not properly packed and stored, the risk of food poisoning continues. Do you know how to pack leftovers to prevent food poisoning and keep your family safe? Here are some tips:
Pack Leftovers Properly
It doesn’t matter if your food was served hot or cold, all leftovers should be packed within two hours of cooking. To prevent contamination and food poisoning:
· Use airtight containers, plastic wrap, or baggies.
· Remove as much air as possible from the package.
· Rapidly cool leftovers by immediately freezing or refrigerating them.
· Write the date on leftovers so you know how long they have been in the freezer or refrigerator.
· Avoid thawing and refreezing meat. If there is too much meat for one meal, cook the entire pack and then freeze leftovers once they are cooked.
If properly packaged, leftovers are generally safe if eaten within three or four days. If they are frozen, most leftovers are safe for three to four months.
Things to Remember about Packed Away Leftovers
Even if you follow food safety guidelines for packing and storing leftovers, you aren’t necessarily out of the woods. If leftovers were already contaminated prior to being packed and stored, you will need to thoroughly heat them before eating to ensure that bacteria is killed off.
Some bacteria can survive freezing temperatures, and will begin to grow again once food is thawed. Heating food in the microwave won’t necessarily kill off bacteria. Microwaves heat up from the outside in, so the interior portion of leftovers may not get hot enough to kill bacteria. Make sure you stop the microwave and stir the food thoroughly to ensure even heating.
Stay Out of the “Danger Zone”
Once food is fully cooked, it needs to be kept either hot or cold - depending on the food - in order to prevent bacteria from growing. Bacteria can rapidly grow in temperatures between 40-140 degrees F. This is called the “danger zone.”
· Keep hot foods hot - above 140 degrees - to prevent bacteria growth. Leftovers should be packed and refrigerated within two hours of cooking.
· Keep cold foods cold - below 40 degrees. Use nesting dishes to keep cold foods chilled on ice, or serve small servings and keep the majority of the food refrigerated.
Watch Out for Signs of Food Poisoning
The CDC warns that there are more than 250 food borne diseases that can cause food poisoning and related illnesses. It is important to know what the signs of food poisoning are, and how to respond to symptoms. Sometimes symptoms do not develop until days after exposure to germs, so it’s sometimes hard to link a specific food to your illness.
Watch out for the signs and symptoms of food poisoning, including:
· Abdominal cramps
These symptoms are mild for some people, and severe for others. If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, you should call a doctor about your symptoms.
Common Types of Food Poisoning The germs most commonly associated with food poisoning are Salmonella, Norovirus, and Campylobacter. If your illness is linked to these germs, you likely will experience a complete recovery in a matter of days. If, however, your illness is linked to Listeria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), or Clostridium botulinum (botulism), then you may need medical care. These germs are the most likely to require hospitalization and medical intervention for recovery.
Unfortunately, there is no “sure fire” way of preventing food poisoning. However, following good food safety
practices like carefully packing and storing leftovers, can help you reduce the chance of contamination.
https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/leftovers-and-food-safety/ct_index https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007441.htm