In light of the recent closure of restaurants and food outlets, a boom in home cooking and baking is emerging, which often leads to surplus food. But how long can leftovers stay in the fridge? Such information is also paramount for vulnerable or sick people who may be more susceptible to illness, and also to those who engage in meal prepping or batch cooking. In this article, cut down on food waste and save time and money cooking and baking by finding out how long it is safe to leave various types of food in the fridge. Also, find out what are the indicators that you should throw food out?

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - stir fry leftovers in wok spatula

With all of the below foods, there may be some variation in terms of the life of the food, so always read the instructions provided by the food manufacturer and use these as a guide along with the below. Additionally, if the food hasn’t been cooked, handled or stored properly, this could compromise the safety of the food. This should be something you bear in mind at all times, especially if you’re engaging in more BBQs or picnics where food environments are less controlled and often in the danger zone.

Meat/fish/poultry

Raw meat/fish poultry:

  • Uncooked beef, regardless of the type of cut, can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
  • There are, however, a few exceptions to this; ground meat, e.g. burgers, and offal only have a fridge duration of 1-2 days.
  • Fresh uncooked pork can last 3-5 days. Ground pork, however, should only be kept for 1-2 days in the fridge.
  • Sausages from chicken, turkey, pork or beef last 1-2 days; this particularly applies to ones sourced from the butcher, but always check the expiry date to confirm.
  • Bacon is often preserved and can last approximately 7 days uncooked, sometimes even longer depending on if it’s cured.
  • Raw poultry should be kept for no more than 1-2 days.
  • Lean, fatty fish and shellfish tend to last approximately 1-2 days in the refrigerator.

Cooked meat/fish/poultry:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend that cooked meat should be stored for no longer than 3-4 days at 40°F/5°C or less before being thrown out.
  • Fortunately, the duration cooked poultry can be kept safely in the fridge is greater than raw poultry.
  • Cooked poultry, e.g. chicken breasts, turkey, generally hold for 3-4 days when refrigerated in proper conditions.
  • This applies to meals too, e.g. chicken casserole, takeaways.
  • Cooked pork, whether it’s a roast or a pork chop, should be kept for up to 2-3 days before being thrown out.
  • Sausages from chicken, turkey, pork or beef can last up to 7 days.
  • Cooked fish can be eaten for up to 3-4 days after being cooked.

Processed meat/fish/poultry:

Now you’re probably thinking about that packaged ham or hot dog that you bought which has an expiry date of 2 weeks or so. Well, the rules alter somewhat when processed meats are taken into consideration. Unopened packaged meats, e.g. meat slices, chicken pieces, will have a use-by date that should be abided by.

  • When the packaging is opened, luncheon meat should be used within 3-5 days and within the use-by date.
  • Ham slices tend to last 3-4 days once opened.
  • Hot dogs should be used within 7 days and within the use-by date.
  • Smoked fish has an excellent fridge life of up to 14 days.
  • Canned fish, e.g. tuna, that has been opened can be kept for 3-4 days (just remove it from the can).

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Roast beef cut

But what about the likes of pizza and foods that contain meat?

If the food contains meat, then it too should follow the guidelines above, especially if the meat touches the other food. A prime example is pizza; cooked pizza can generally be salvaged for up to 3-4 days. The same principles apply to batch-cooked meals, takeaways and meat casseroles. Generally, most meals will follow the principle of 3-4 days before it should be discarded.

So there’s no need to think that you need to eat a whole pizza in one sitting to avoid having to throw it out later, unless of course you want to eat it all, in which case you’ll receive no judgement here whatsoever! If you have leftovers and you don’t think that you can eat them within the recommended time, then you definitely need to check out what foods can I freeze?

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Person taking slice of pepperoni pizza

Eggs

  • Hard-boiled eggs can last up to 7 days in the fridge.
  • Egg substitutes which have been cooked will hold for 3-4 days.
  • Egg substitutes unopened can last up to 7 days, also check the use-by date.
  • Quiches should be retained for no longer than 3-5 days.
  • Pies, e.g. custard, can last up to 3-4 days.
  • Store-bought mayonnaise tends to go off after about 2 months.

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Bowl of eggs

Dairy

  • Hard cheeses, e.g. cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, can last up to 3-4 weeks.
  • Soft cheeses retain more moisture and so the risk of bacterial growth is elevated. Consume these within 1 week.
  • Cream should be consumed within 4 days.
  • Yoghurt can last from 7-14 days in the fridge.
  • Milk can last up to 7 days.

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Milk being poured into glass

Soups, stews and sauces

  • Whether they contain vegetables or meat, soup and stews last up to 3-4 days.
  • Cooked vegetables last approximately 3-5 days.
  • Meat broths and gravy should be discarded after 1-2 days.

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Sweet potato soup in bowl

Baked foods

  • Most baked goods tend to hold well at room temperature.
  • Cookies, brownies and cakes can last up to 5 days.
  • Bread and muffins can start going stale after 3-4 days.
  • Cakes with fresh cream should be consumed no later than 4 days after being baked, and are better suited to the fridge.

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Loaves of soda bread

Signs you food should be discarded

There are instances when you follow the above guidelines regarding retention dates and the use-by dates for food; but sometimes there’s just something iffy about the food that’s making you question whether to lob it in you gob or throw it in the trash. If you find yourself in such a predicament, one possibility you need to consider is the fact that it could have the potential to induce sickness or food poisoning as a result of bacteria residing on the host food.

There are two primary types of bacteria that can present on food:

Pathogenic bacteria: is responsible for people, especially those with a compromised immune system, developing a foodborne illness, e.g. salmonella. This type of bacteria develops rapidly while food is in the danger zone of 5-60°C or 40-140°F. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ascertain if food has succumbed to pathogenic bacteria as it does not yield any signs, such as unusual odours, flavours or texture. Fortunately, following proper food handling and cooking guidelines helps to minimise the potential for foodborne illnesses to occur.

Spoilage bacteria: leads to food deterioration and development of unusual odours, texture and taste. Once proper assessments of food have been made, it’s possible to determine if the food is spoiled. Surprisingly, spoilage bacteria can in fact grow at lower temperatures, so refrigeration alone will not inhibit their growth.

Below are some tips to aid you judgement of the food:

    • If in doubt, throw it out! There’s no point running the risk of eating food and feeling sick for the rest of the day, or worse still, developing food poisoning.
    • If the food has an unusual odour or looks slimy or sticky, immediately throw it out – resist all temptation to do a taste test.
    • Watch out for any signs of microbial activity, e.g. mold or unusual colours or texture.
    • If the food, is looking dried out, e.g. lasagne, it’s possible that it has gone off.

    How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? - Cheddar cheese blocks mold

    Summary

    • If in doubt, throw it out!
    • Follow the use-by date to determine how long foods can last
    • Raw meat/fish/poultry can last anywhere from 1-5 days in the fridge
    • Cooked meats/fish/poultry generally last 3-4 days in the refrigerator
    • Processed meat typically has a longer retention time until it’s unopened
    • If you want to preserve the food longer than the fridge life and it’s suitable to do so, then freeze it
    • If there’s any evidence of odour, flavour or texture changes, then the food should be discarded
    • Pathogenic bacteria do not alter the flavour, texture or smell of food
    • Avoid leaving perishable foods at room temperature for longer than 2 hours
    • Slow down food spoilage by storing them in airtight containers. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    Adopting caution around perishable goods, especially meat/fish/poultry is essential to preventing illness, as moist foods are feeding grounds for bacteria. So even if the food was something you’d been looking forward to all day, or you spent hours labouring over the oven to cook it, it’s never worth running the risk. Let’s face it, in all likelihood, the value of the food is probably only worth a couple of €/$/£ anyway.

    Have you ever experienced food poisoning or sickness from food? Do you adopt more stringent rules compared with the above guidelines or do you simply follow the sniff test? Please post you comments and thoughts below.

    Sources

    Ask.usda.gov. 2019. Askusda. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2020].

    Buckingham, C., 2019. This Is How Long Your Leftovers Will Last | Eat This Not That. [online] Eat This Not That. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2020].

    Butler, N., 2018. How Long Can You Safely Store Meat?. [online] Healthline. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2020].

    Doster, N. and Woodward, P., 2017. Here’s How Long Leftovers Will Last In Your Fridge. [online] Business Insider. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2020].

    Roberts, E., 2019. How To Store Baked Goods So They Stay Fresh. [online] Martha Stewart. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2020].

    Zeratsky, K., 2018. How Long Can You Keep Leftovers?. [online] Mayo Clinic. Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2020].

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    12 Comments

  • Silvia · 23/05/2020 at 12:19 PM

    Thank you for this, I’ve saved it in my Bookmarks and will go back to it in case I’m unsure of what to do. There is a lot of detail in here, it makes me so happy!!!

      Sharon · 24/05/2020 at 12:04 PM

      Hi Silvia,

      Wow bookmarking the site is a compliment in itself – thank you! Good to hear, if you every have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

      Sharon

    Teresa · 23/05/2020 at 12:21 PM

    I have never really been keen on leftover pizza. However, may daughter eats it for breakfast if it’s there.
    I would be curious to know how long uncooked eggs are technically good. I rarely replace my eggs
    because they are old. But I was told they do expire.

      Sharon · 24/05/2020 at 12:08 PM

      Hi Teresa,

      I agree with you on that one, plus the texture is never as good as when it’s fresh out of the oven.

      If you’re talking about raw eggs still in their shell, the can last up to 4-5 weeks or whatever use by date is on the carton. If it’s raw eggs, not in their shell, they can last up to 2 days.

      Hope this helps.
      Sharon

    TGP · 23/05/2020 at 1:31 PM

    Very informative article. I was really surprised as how long boiled eggs can be in the fridge (7 days???!!!!). I’m always worried about those things as it can be very dangers. I often go through my fridge and freezer to review everything in there, and immediately, throw away what is out of date or not good. Actually, I have one example right now: I took a piece of chicken from the freezer last night but I won’t use it today. I know I can’t put it back in the freezer, would it keep in the fridge til tomorrow? It will be more than 24hours in the fridge. 🙂

      Sharon · 24/05/2020 at 12:10 PM

      Hi there,

      Oh, thanks so much, I really appreciate it!

      Yes, although I personally haven’t gone longer than 5 days with boiled eggs. Once the chicken is thawed, it should follow the same timelines as a raw piece of chicken would. In your case, use the chicken within 1-2 days.

      Hopefully this answers your query!

      Best wishes,
      Sharon

    Kathy · 23/05/2020 at 1:47 PM

    I found this article very useful as often have leftovers. Living on my own means I frequently cook more than needed. I don’t eat meat, but glad to hear tuna can be kept for up to 4 days. I often make tuna pasta and store some in the fridge for the following day. I use airtight containers for storing leftover soups or vegetable stews. I would hate to get food poisoning and cheese with any sign of mould gets thrown out!

      Sharon · 24/05/2020 at 12:12 PM

      Hi Kathy,

      That’s great feedback, thank you! You seem to be following most of the guidelines, if not all of them already!

      Hopefully you learned a few new tips!

      Sharon

    Bob` · 23/05/2020 at 1:53 PM

    Back before the pandemic I’d buy meat that was reduced for quick sale at the grocery store. I haven’t seen any reduced meat recently, but when we return too normal would I be able to cook burgers and store the burgers for a few days? When would you throw out the uneaten burgers?

      Sharon · 24/05/2020 at 12:14 PM

      Hi Bob,

      Great idea, and also a great way to save money! I sometimes do that and immediately freeze the meat to use later on.

      You could keep the cooked burgers in the fridge for 3-4 days. If you don’t think you’ll use them within that timeframe, perhaps consider freezing them as this will extend their life immensely.

      Let me know if you have any more queries.
      Sharon

    Partha · 23/05/2020 at 2:00 PM

    Hi Sharon,

    I pretty sure I don’t abide by any of the above.

    I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a 48-hour cut-off point with cooked meats (and this includes in stews and casseroles). I’m even more wary of poultry and will typically only store it until the following day.

    I must admit that I do often feel quite bad, as this can lead to a fair amount of wastage, although I’ve been a lot better as of late (probably realising the importance of not wasting food a lot more during the current pandemic).

    With that being said, when I do eat processed meats (sandwich fillers)I tend to use them right up until the best before date, even if I opened the packaging a week before.

    Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get it right eventually!

    Partha

      Sharon · 24/05/2020 at 12:18 PM

      Hi Partha,

      I completely understand where you’re coming from. Some people would bare entertain the idea of eating leftovers, not to mind letting them sit in a fridge for a few days and then eat them. At the end of the day, if you’re not comfortable with pushing the life of meat longer, then that’s completely fine. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

      Maybe consider freezing it instead of letting it sit in the fridge if you know that you’re probably going to throw it out anyway.

      Great to hear your opinions on this!

      Thanks,
      Sharon

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