How Long Are Leftovers Still Safe To Eat?

Life is full of simple joys. Warm blankets, cozy patches of sunlight. And delicious leftovers in the fridge. There's something so satisfying about reheating a soup you made the day before.

Simple joys aside, leftovers are a great way to save money too. MoneyWise wrote an entire column on different ways to use leftovers, all in a bid to help people stretch their food budget. They cover everything from meat to pasta to fruit and offer multiple suggestions on how to use almost any leftovers you have.

Even Netflix is in on the benefits of leftovers. Their show Best Leftovers Ever! sees chefs competing to reuse leftovers in the most delicious way possible. Their leftovers are staged, of course. And with a fully stocked pantry at their disposal, it's a little bit easier than it would be for the average home cook.

Unfortunately, there is something you have to do before you start digging through your fridge, especially if your leftovers have been in there for a while. You have to make sure the leftovers are still fit to eat. But that is easier said than done, depending on what's in the dish.

Timelines differ

Sometimes it's easy to tell if leftovers are past the point of no return. Funny smells, off-putting colors, and unwanted growths are all pretty clear indicators that the food has been in the fridge for far too long. But it gets harder when a dish is just edging out of the safety zone or if the dish is heavy in certain ingredients. And, as NBC reports, bacteria don't always wait until the food's in the fridge to get a foothold in leftovers.

NBC spoke with registered dietitian Amy Shapiro who owns Real Nutrition NYC. She made a point of explaining that leftovers can't be left out all evening after dinner. She recommends refrigerating leftovers after no more than two hours. Any longer than that and bacteria begin to grow in the food, which may not rot the leftovers right away, but Shapiro states this is still one of the leading causes of food-borne illness.

Once the leftovers are in the fridge, most dishes are only good for three to four days. Meatless pasta and rice dishes can last up to five, as can salads that contain ham, egg, chicken, macaroni, or tuna. This is why it's a good idea to tape a date label to your leftovers, unless you plan on finishing them the very next day.