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?
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.
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.
- 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.
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).
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?
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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