How Long Do Leftovers Last in the Fridge?

Foods that are left over can save you money and time. Additionally, they’re a fantastic method to reduce food waste. Although being frugal is a good idea, eating leftover food that has been in or out of the refrigerator for too long may be harmful to your health.

You might question how long these foods can be stored without becoming bad. The shelf life of leftovers in the fridge varies depending on the food and the method of preparation. In general, leftovers should be stored within three to four days of cooking. It is important to heat leftovers thoroughly before storing them in the fridge to prevent bacteria growth. People with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and elderly people should be especially careful about leftovers. If you notice any signs of spoilage, throw them out.

This article discusses how long leftovers are safe to consume and how to recognise ruined food.


How Long do Leftovers Last in the Fridge?

Leftover Food Varieties

Foods’ shelf life is influenced by a number of variables, including how they are prepared, stored, and what kind of food they are.

How long leftovers can be stored safely in your refrigerator depends on whether they are fish cakes or sautéed vegetables.

This is so that you won’t get sick, as some meals are more likely to contain pathogens like germs or poisons.

But leftovers frequently combine several food categories. A decent rule of thumb in these situations is to base your decision on which ingredient in the meal degrades first. For instance, seafood rice would only be edible for as long as the seafood, which, as will be discussed below, has a larger risk than rice.

If in doubt, it’s best to discard leftovers within three days.

Lower Risks

Veggies and Fruits

The sooner you can start eating these raw foods, the better. All raw fruits and vegetables should be well rinsed in clean water before consumption.

Fresh fruit that has been sliced and well washed often keeps for 3-5 days before it starts to lose its freshness.

Vegetable leftovers can typically be kept in the refrigerator for 3–7 days after cooking if they are sealed in an airtight container. When stored properly, cooked vegetables in cans, such as beans or other legumes, typically last 7 to 10 days.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries are examples of fruits and vegetables having a higher water content than those with a lower water content, such as kale, potatoes, and bananas. These produce items lose their freshness more quickly.

This could speed up or slow down the clock in terms of how long you can store the food before eating it.

Store-bought bread will be fine to eat for around 5-7 days, unless you observe mould, whereas homemade bread can last for about 3 days at room temperature. Never consume bread that has gone mouldy.

Breads can be kept in the refrigerator for an additional 3-5 days, but the longer they are kept there, the worse the quality gets.

Medium-risk Food Items

When stored properly, cooked grains like barley and quinoa can last up to three days.

After cooking, you can freeze these and they’ll typically keep for three months before they start to lose their freshness.Desserts and other sweets often keep in the refrigerator for 3–4 days.

Higher Risks

Foods with increased protein and moisture content, two factors that encourage the growth of specific bacteria, are more likely to cause food illness.

Prepared Rice

Rice is one food that deviates from this general rule since it can contain Bacillus cereus spores. Toxins produced by this bacterium can result in foodborne disease.

After it has been cooked, rice should be stored, cooled, and eaten within three days.

Livestock and Meat

As long as they are kept at or below 41°F (5°C), ground meat and poultry that has been cooked to a safe temperature can last for about 1-2 days in the refrigerator.

Steaks, fillets, chops, and roasts are examples of other meat and poultry that keep well in the fridge for 3–4 days. These should only ever be defrosted in the refrigerator, never on the counter, if you plan to do so. Prepare food within two days of thawing.

Using the microwave to defrost food is also an option, but make sure to consume the meal right away.

Deli meat that has been opened needs to be eaten within three to five days. Similar to cold deli salads, you should eat egg, tuna, or chicken salad within 3-5 days.

Eggs, Soups, Stews, and Shellfish

Another food that carries a higher risk of spreading Salmonella is eggs. After cooking and storing, shelled hard-boiled eggs should be eaten within seven days.

Fish and shellfish should be eaten carefully since they may contain poisons like histamine or other infections that could make you ill. Seafood leftovers must be eaten within three days.

In the refrigerator, soups and stews, whether they contain meat or fish or not, typically keep for 3 to 4 days.

Meals from a Restaurant

You should keep in mind that you won’t always know how fresh the ingredients were before being used when dealing with restaurant leftovers.

These leftovers should be consumed 3 to 4 days sooner than their handmade equivalents.

Consume the remaining food within 24 hours if it contains raw ingredients, such as raw fish or vegetables.

How to Determine if Leftover Food is Awful?

You should smell and look for spoiled food indicators when inspecting your meals.

Start by checking for any textural changes or the presence of mould, which can show as white, green, orange-red, pink, or black fuzz, among other hues. This is a sign that the food has gone bad and needs to be thrown out.

Don’t smell mould if you notice it because doing so could harm your respiratory system.

Foods that form a slimy coating, like deli meats, should also be thrown away.

Your leftovers are no longer safe to eat if they smell sour. Similarly, food that has been discoloured might no longer be healthy or tasty to eat.

However, throw your leftovers away right away and, if you can, spit out anything you haven’t already swallowed if you take a bite and notice something is odd about the flavour.

Remember to abide by the aforementioned rules because food might spoil before you can detect it by looking at it or smelling it.

What are the Guidelines for Appropriate Storage of Food?

Between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C), bacteria can flourish. The “danger zone” is this range of temperatures.

Within two hours, store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them out of the danger zone. If it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) outside, you should cool or freeze your food or drink within an hour.

Hot foods should be kept in smaller, sealed containers that are shallower. Foods will cool more quickly and evenly as a result.

Although most bacteria grow more slowly in a refrigerator, it’s crucial to remember that some bacteria, including Listeria monocytogenes, can still multiply there.

It’s crucial to remember how long you’ve kept a specific item in your refrigerator for this reason. When you store your food, it could be useful to label it with the date and time you initially created the dish, as well as the date it should be thrown out by.

Think about the arrangement of the products you’re putting in your refrigerator as another helpful hint.

Foods that are ready to eat and uncooked foods should both be kept on the top shelf. Uncooked meats should be placed to the bottom of the refrigerator in the meantime. In this way, juices from raw meat or poultry won’t drip onto your leftovers and endanger their safety.

To remove foods from the danger zone, rewarm them to at least 165°F (74°C). Reheating gravies and sauces is recommended.

What are the Dangers of Consuming Rotten Food?

Inadequately heating food to a safe internal temperature and letting food out at dangerous temperatures are the two main causes of foodborne diseases.

Common foods can include a variety of microorganisms that can result in food poisoning, including:

Deli meats, raw eggs, improperly washed fruits and vegetables, and smoked seafood are all sources of Listeria monocytogenes.

Tropical and subtropical fish, such as grouper and red snapper, contain ciguatoxin.

Rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, meats, vegetables, and fish all contain bacillus cereus.

deli meats, cold salads, pastry filling, puddings, and sandwiches can all contain staphylococcus aureus.

Eggs, fruits, vegetables, nut butters, meats, and fowl all contain salmonella.

Escherichia coli: undercooked foods, fruits and vegetables that haven’t been properly washed (particularly leafy greens), and raw dairy.

However, since their spores float about freely in the air and fall on food, leftovers are particularly vulnerable to these infections. Due to this, mould can grow and produce mycotoxins, which can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or a combination of these symptoms.

Reference: The association between leftover food consumption and depression among older adults: Findings from a cross-sectional study


It is important to store leftovers in the fridge safely to ensure they don’t go bad. Food should be refrigerated at 165degF or above to ensure it stays fresh. You can buy a food thermometer for around $15 at Target. It is also a good idea to thaw frozen foods slowly in the fridge. However, you can also defrost your sweets and breads on the counter. You should also check your pantry frequently to ensure that all food is safe to eat.

If you’ve made large dishes of leftovers, you should consider placing them in shallow containers. This way, the food won’t heat up the surrounding foods and put them in a dangerous temperature zone. The USDA also suggests that you don’t leave hot food in the fridge for too long, as it could raise the internal temperature and potentially lead to food-borne illnesses.