How Long Can You Actually Keep Leftovers In The Fridge?

So you've ended up boiling way too much pasta or rice than you could possibly eat or perhaps, there's you've just cooked a little more food than you intended to. No matter the scenario, everyone's been there: You've served everyone second helpings and pushed yourself to squeeze in just another bite, yet there's still a pot full of food. Luckily, there's that handy appliance called a refrigerator that can store leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. But have you ever wondered precisely how long cooked leftovers stay fresh in the fridge?

Foods stay fresh in the refrigerator depending on how well they are stored. Professor of food microbiology at Cornell University, Randy Worobo, Ph.D., tells SELF that it's crucial to not leave your leftovers out at room temperature for longer than two hours after which the food's temperature falls enough for microbes to breed. The longer the food is out, the more prone it is to spoiling which is why refrigerating leftover restaurant food once you're home can be tricky. It's also important to use airtight containers, maintain your refrigerator's temperature at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and do your best to not cross-contaminate cooked food with anything raw.

But that's not all. How long you can store leftovers in the refrigerator also depends on exactly what it is that you've cooked.

Some foods stay fresh longer than others

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service technical information specialist Meredith Carothers tells Mashed that cooked leftovers, especially anything which contains meat, can be safely stored in the refrigerator for three to four days, or in the freezer for up to four months. As a general rule of thumb, the FDA says that no cooked food should be eaten after it has been sitting in the refrigerator for a week. 

Healthline goes on further to explain that some foods are more susceptible to being breeding grounds for bacteria than others and will spoil quicker. Fruits, veggies, and bread have a longer shelf life in the refrigerator and can stay safe for about a week. Rice, when put away in the refrigerator within an hour of cooking, will stay fresh for about three days whereas cooked meat and poultry can be stored for up to two days at a temperature lower than 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Soups and stews stay safe for up to four days regardless of whether they have any meat in them or not and the same goes for seafood, pasta, grains, and desserts. 

With inflation at its highest point in 40 years, making the most out of grocery shopping is important and this easy habit will ensure you don't waste those leftovers.