Every year around Christmas, there’s a spike in food poisoning incidents across Australia. There are a number of factors that contribute to this – the warmer weather, the preparation of foods that we’re not accustomed to cooking, and the prevalence of leftovers.
Of course, there are many benefits that come along with saving leftovers. Saving food for use at a later date can help to prevent overeating. It can help avoid waste and save your family money. What’s more, it gives you the opportunity to enjoy some truly tasty food once again the next day.
However, it’s important to remember that food safety standards need to be applied to leftovers – perhaps even more so than a freshly cooked meal, as the food has already been exposed to the temperature danger zone and potential contamination.
Here’s how to make sure you handle your leftovers safely and securely in order to prevent illness and cross-contamination.
Know when to refrigerate
Sometimes knowing when to refrigerate leftovers can present a challenge. The temperature danger zone for food is between 5° C and 60° C – this is the temperature at which bacteria multiply rapidly and can become harmful to human health. It’s also the temperature at which most of us consume food, whether indoors or outdoors.
Food should be allowed to cool to the point where steam is no longer coming from it in order to assure safe refrigeration. If you’re saving food that was cooked or consumed outdoors in hot temperatures, refrigerate it within one hour. Throw out any food that has been within the temperature danger zone for over two hours.
The way in which you store leftovers can also have an impact on food safety. Always seal food properly in clean, airtight containers. If you’re storing large quantities of food items like stew or homemade soup, separate it into several smaller, shallower containers to allow it to cool more quickly and evenly.
Safe reheating procedure
When reheating leftovers, it’s important to do so thoroughly in order to make sure any bacteria in the food is killed – ensure a temperature of 75° C is reached for at least two minutes.
If reheating in a microwave, take steps to make sure the food is reheated evenly. Cold spots can easily breed harmful bacteria and make you sick. Use a cover when heating your items. Stir or rotate food halfway through cooking to ensure even cooking.