Health Flashes

Keeping Cooked Food Safe

During the holiday season, many meals are large affairs with lots of people and often lots of leftovers. The December 2006 Nutrition Action Health Letter, a small but powerful publication of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (, has safe food as its focus. The feature article is called “Fear of Fresh” and deals with the latest spinach news (“Spinach Blues”) as part of the topic of food borne illnesses.

On page 6 is an important piece on keeping cooked food safely stored at home, which I thought was important enough to put in Health Flashes. Briefly, here are the Rules for Leftovers:

1. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking. Otherwise throw them away.
2. Store food at a shallow depth—about 2 inches—to speed chilling. (Then transfer the cooled item to a jar or bowl that takes up less space. My comment. ES)
3. Use leftovers stored in the refrigerator within 4 days. (Exception: Use stuffing and gravy within 2 days.) Reheat solid leftovers to 165 degrees and liquid leftovers to a rolling boil. Toss what you don’t finish.

Having stated the above, I would like to add something a little bit contrary to this advice. In my opinion, based on years of research about food, leftovers are already cooked and less nutritious than their uncooked counterparts, so cooking them again seems to reduce their nutrition to a very low level. I often refrigerate leftover grains and vegetables and use them the next day as a chilled side dish without reheating. And if there are leftovers in my ‘frig for more than two days, I usually toss them.

In Hunzaland, a secluded place in the Himalayan Mountains, I once read that all leftovers are given to the pigs that the Hunzacuts raise. People easily live to be 100, and in fact, one of the dance groups will not accept members until they are 80 years old! So, while the advice from CSPI is sound, you may want to rethink your philosophy about reheating leftovers. Refrigerate leftovers (turkey, chicken, potatoes, green vegetables, grains, etc.) using the two-hour window of time, but eat without reheating……and start dancing!

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