The season of cooking and baking is upon us. From cooking for holiday gatherings, to just trying to get a healthy meal on the table despite the cold, dark evenings, you’ll undoubtedly be left with plenty of leftovers. While just the word leftovers can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths, leftovers can be an efficient way to eat clean all winter long, no matter how busy you are—as long as they actually get eaten, and don’t start growing mold, that is.
Keep these six food safety tips in mind all season long and make the most of your leftovers.
1. Avoid the danger zone
Danger! Danger! Bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses loves to multiply at temperatures between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C). Unfortunately, that’s probably room temperature for you. Refrigerate food as soon as you get back from the grocery store, and put away the leftovers before you sit down for your meal. If you need to rapidly cool a soup before putting it in the fridge or freezer, drop ice cubes, in or run cold water over the closed container.
2. Rinse away
We’re sure you share our love for fresh fruits and veggies—especially if they’re local! It can be tempting to bite right into a crisp fall apple without heading to the sink first, but rinsing off all produce is an important step in keeping your food safe. Here are some washing tips:
- You don’t have to worry about using a special rinse solution—just plain old water will do the trick.
- Start with clean hands and cut away any damaged or bruised areas—or black spots on leafy greens and herbs.
- If your leafy greens come pre-washed, you don’t have to worry about doing a second rinse.
- Dry produce with a clean cloth towel to keep it even safer during storage.
Most fruits and vegetables can stay in the fridge for up to 5 days, and in the freezer for several months.
3. De-frost safely
Thinking about leaving that bag of frozen veggies or frozen soup out on the counter to thaw? Think again! The safest way to defrost is by putting frozen food in the refrigerator until thawed, or running it under cold water (and changing that water every 30 minutes). Although we love crockpot soups as much as you, it’s best to defrost any frozen herbs or vegetables before putting them directly into the crockpot. This prevents veggies from being in the danger zone for too long—where bacteria can multiply.
4. Know your label lingo
Is that carton of almond milk still good? Remember that a “Best-If-Used-By- (or Before)” date is the last date recommended for peak quality as determined by the manufacturer of the product. It may not taste as fresh, but is still safe for 3 to 5 days after that date. When in doubt, don’t risk it, just throw it out.
5. Power outage how-to
Depending on where you live, heavy snows and freezing rain can cause power outages at any time during the winter. Hopefully the lights will come back on soon, but what do you do with everything that is in the fridge and freezer? Use these two charts to determine which refrigerated foods and which frozen foods need to be tossed, and which ones can be eaten.
6. Wash that dirty bag
That cute reusable bag you carry groceries home in is saving the world while looking good. But when was the last time you threw it in the washing machine? Reusable bags can harbor harmful bacteria in and on them. Begin to wash your bags on a weekly basis. If you set them down on a countertop, take time after putting away the food to clean that counter. Who knows where else that bag has been!
Here’s to a healthy and delicious leftover season!
(Note: If you’re plant-based part-time, you can learn more about safety for non-plant-based foods here)
What’s your favorite food to eat as leftovers?
- United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Food Safety. Accessed on October 28th, 2013 from http://www.foodsafety.gov
- Government of Canada. (2013). Healthy Canadians: Food Safety. Accessed on October 28th, 2013 from http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/safety-salubrite/index-eng.php
- Sweetener and as a Sweetener in Certain Food Categories. Accessed on 10/21/13 from http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/consult/steviol/document-consultation-eng.php