The Proper Way to Store Leftovers

Cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer constantly due to not getting the most out of our stored food is a task we all seem to loathe. And some of us don’t even take the plunge into the deeper corners of our stainless steel wonder under we get a whiff of a suspicious scent – usually coming from those leftovers we have either forgotten about or stored in the wrong ways. But, if we stay in tune with the rules and regulations in the world of properly storing food and leftovers, then we may stop a problem before it even unfolds – and starts to stink.

Today, we’re breaking it down starting with the generics. What are the safety concerns? Can we leave fruit in a bowl and be good to go? What are some of the best containers on the market? And then we’ll switch to the specifics. We’ll travel through some of our everyday eats and let you in on the secret to keeping them fresh and ready-to-eat for as long as their shelf life allows.

The Generics: The Regulations We Should All Know

The Simplest Regulation

If you have some leftovers after your Monday night family dinner, it’s nice to know how long you can keep them in the fridge before the window to reheat closes. The simple rule of thumb is as follows: leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days or frozen and left in the freezer for three to four months. Make sure that the seal on the leftovers are airtight to keep bacteria from getting in and odors from getting out.

The Take-Out Boxes: THROW THEM OUT

Those plastic, styrofoam, or paper take-out boxes aren’t meant to be kept or reused. They have a one-time-only limit and are meant to be thrown away after the initial meal is had; they were never designed for more. Instead, move your leftovers into food storage containers that were made for the job.

The Best Containers

When it comes to leftovers, airtight containers are what you need to be on the lookout for. But, did you know that there are different containers depending on your specific needs including those made for produce? Here are a few of our favorites:

	
	
 

It’s important to note that you must replace containers. They just don’t last forever, especially if you’re using them on a daily basis. Continue to inspect the edges of the bowls and the lids. If they inherit some flaws, it’s time for a new buy.

The Sections of the Fridge: Know Them

Upper Shelves: This is the warmest section of the refrigerator. Store foods here that don’t pose a safety risk such as sodas. Reserve this spot for quick eats and put leftovers in the middle and bottom shelves.

Middle Shelves: Store foods with a slight safety risk such as milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fruits, and veg.

Bottom Shelves: This is where you store your foods with the highest risk because it’s the coolest area. Slide your meats, fish, and poultry here.

The Specifics: Rules & Ways For Our Everyday Eats

Fruits

Apples

  • Keep whole apples in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator for up to an entire month.
  • Sliced apples should be kept in an airtight container with a bit of lemon juice squeezed atop to prevent browning. They can be kept like this for up to 5 days.

Citrus Fruits

  • Whole citrus fruits can be kept in a crisper drawer in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
  • Ideally, tangerines should be eaten within the first two weeks.

Ripe Avocado

  • Store unripe avocados at room temperature. You know when it’s ripened if you give it a light squeeze and it yields to the pressure. Once ripened, move to the fridge.
  • Whole, ripe avocado can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week in a plastic bag.

Berries

  • Berries can be kept in a refrigerator drawer for up to 5 days in their original container as to not dry them out.
  • You can always go ahead and rinse your berries in the sink and then buy a food storage container made specifically for berries or use a container with holes that breathe.

Melon

  • Unripe melons should be kept whole at room temperature for up to one week until ripe.
  • Once your melon has ripened, it can be kept whole in the refrigerator. If you’ve cut the melon in half, cover in plastic wrap before placing it back in the fridge. Sliced melon should be kept in an airtight container with a sprinkle of sugar for 4-5 days.

Ripe Plums, Nectarines, & Peaches

  • Store at room temperature until ripe, usually taking between 1-2 days. *You can speed up this process by placing the fruit in a paper bag.
  • Ripe whole plums, nectarines, and peaches can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Vegetables

Roasted Vegetables

  • After roasting vegetables, they can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Also, store them in a shallow container within 2 hours of cooking.

Carrots

  • Carrots can be kept in a fridge drawer for up to 3 weeks – whether whole or cut.

Cauliflower & Broccoli

  • These too can be kept in a crisper drawer and kept for up to 5 days.
  • It’s also recommended that you keep them in an open plastic bag.

Celery

  • This can also be kept in an open plastic bag for up to 2 weeks.
  • Keep in a crisper drawer.

Cucumber

  • Keep in a crisper drawer for up to 1 week.
  • Only cut what you’ll use.

Dairy & Dairy Alternatives

Yogurt

  • Usually, it’s safe to go by the “sell by” date on your specific package.
  • General rule is that a tub of yogurt should be kept only 5-7 days after it has been opened.

Cheese

  • Pay attention to what kind of cheese you have. Usually, you can go by the “sell by” date that comes with packaged cheeses.
  • Other types like parmesan or sharp cheddar can be left unopened in the refrigerator for up to 4 months or 8 months in the freezer.

Milk

  • Again, it’s important to note the “sell by” date here too.
  • It has been said that you can keep milk up to 5 days past its printed date – keep in mind that whole milk expires before 2% or skim milk.

Soy/Almond/Coconut Milk

  • Soy milk must be kept in the refrigerator once opened and stays fresh for only 5-7 days afterward.
  • Almond milk must be kept in the refrigerator once opened as well and stays fresh 7-10 days afterward. But before opened, could have a shelf life of months (just check the expiration date!
  • Coconut milk begins to spoil as soon as it’s opened as well and should be consumed within 7-10 days after.

Starchy Foods

Bread

  • Keep bread at room temperature – the refrigerator will actually make it go stale faster.
  • After a couple of days, wrap up your bread and freeze it until you want to use it again. Once reheated, it’ll taste like a freshly baked batch.
  • If your bread is sliced, keep in brown paper bags.
  • For crusted loaves, keep in plastic wrap or foil.

Pasta

  • Fresh pasta should be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Keep dry pasta in an airtight container at room temperature and will stay good for 1-2 years.
  • Cooked pasta should be kept in airtight containers inside the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

Rice

  • Dry rice should be kept in a dry, cool space such as the pantry for up to 12 months in an airtight container once the original packaging has been opened.
  • Cooked rice should be stored in the fridge within 4 hours from cooking for up to 3 days.

Oats

  • Dry oats can be stored for up to 2 years in an airtight container in a dry, cool place like the pantry. Cooked oats should be placed in the fridge in airtight containers or resealable plastic bags and used within 4 days.

Meat, Fish, & Poultry

Beef

  • Raw beef should be kept at the bottom of the refrigerator since it’s the coolest space with the temperature being at least 40 degrees or lower.
  • Raw ground beef should be refrigerated for only 1-2 days before use.
  • Raw steaks should be kept for 3-5 days.
  • Cooked beef store in the refrigerator for only 3-4 days.

Chicken

  • Uncooked chicken should be kept on the lowest shelf for no longer than 1-2 days. Keep it wrapped up so it does not drip.
  • Cooked chicken should be kept in the refrigerator for around 3 days.

Bacon (Fridge/Freezer)

  • Packaged uncooked bacon can be kept in the refrigerator up to 1 week past its” sell by” date.
  • Unopened packages of bacon can be frozen for 1 month.
  • Cooked bacon should be kept in shallow, airtight containers in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Deli Cold Cuts

  • Fresh cold cuts are best kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator on the middle shelves.
  • They’re at their optimal freshness within the first 5-7 days after being cut.

Seafood

  • Raw fish should be kept on the lowest shelf of the fridge for only 2 days before cooking but can be kept in the freezer for 6 months.
  • Live shellfish should be kept in the fridge for 1 day (so buy it when you intend on cooking it!).
  • Raw, uncooked shrimp should be kept in the fridge on the lowest shelf and cooked within 2 days. Cooked shrimp can be kept as leftovers in the fridge for 3-5 days.

Tuna Salad

  • Refrigerate tuna salad in airtight containers for 3-5 days.

Meat Alternatives (Protein)

Tofu

  • Uncooked tofu can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  • Cooked tofu fits within the standard leftover range and can be kept in the fridge in airtight containers for around 3-5 days.

Tempeh

  • Remember, tempeh is alive and will continue to ferment, even in the fridge.
  • Wrap it in wax or parchment paper for up to 7 days in the refrigerator after opening.
  • Before opening keep in a dark, cool place like the pantry.

Cooked Lentils

  • Cooked lentils should be stored in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking.
  • Keep lentils covered and they can be kept for 5-7 days in the fridge or frozen for up to 6 months.

Quinoa

  • Uncooked quinoa should be kept in the pantry in an airtight container. To get even more shelf life, keep dry quinoa in the fridge.
  • Cooked quinoa should be put in an airtight container for 5-7 days in the fridge and up to 2 months in the freezer.

Mixed Meals

Soups

  • Soups can be kept in the fridge for 3-5 days.
  • Freeze soups for 4-6 months.
  • Think about storing soup in individual containers to make the reheating process easier and more convenient.

Stew

  • Once dinner is over, move the stew directly into the fridge. It will keep in covered, airtight containers for 3-4 days.
  • You can also freeze stew for 4-6 months.

Pizza

  • Pizza can be put into the fridge and stay fresh for 3-4 days.
  • Freeze your pie for 1-2 months.

Download Our Infographic for Storing Leftovers