Remembering you have leftover chicken, pizza or turkey in the fridge can feel like a siren call to happiness. But depending on the type of food you’re dealing with, figuring out whether or not Wednesday’s dinner can safely be eaten as Friday’s lunch can feel like a guessing game. Here’s the run-down on how long leftover food lasts, and how to know when it has gone bad.
Storage conditions will cause the shelf life of cooked chicken to vary from kitchen to kitchen. If your fridge is exceptionally cold and the chicken is sealed properly, it can last for more than four days. However, a good rule of thumb for the average fridge is to toss cooked chicken after four days, which is when bacteria usually begins to grow. If you’re unsure whether or not the chicken is safe to eat, look for any signs of a sour smell or slightly slimy texture. If you find any of these traits, discard the chicken without tasting it first.
Leftover Stuffing & Gravy
While some might argue that half the fun of these popular holiday dinner accoutrements is the leftovers, both stuffing and gravy have a surprisingly short shelf life. Stuffing — which is often soaked through with meat drippings — shouldn’t be consumed after a maximum of two days in the fridge. The same two-day rule should be applied to the gravy, which should always be brought to a rolling boil to properly kill bacteria before serving again. The good news is that freezing excess stuffing and gravy will extend the shelf life for up to four months.
Any food with meat and cheese that’s left unrefrigerated for more than two hours can cause foodborne illness. This includes the half-eaten pizza box you left out just in case “someone” wanted another slice. Place your pizza in the fridge within two hours of preparation, and it will last for up to four days, three days being the recommended shelf life of the average slice. After that, bacteria can begin to grow and lead to food poisoning.
Leftover Pad Thai & Takeout Noodles
Pad Thai and other popular takeout noodle dishes will generally last up to three days in the refrigerator. Due to heavy sauces that can contribute to a soggy texture, these dishes can sometimes taste bad before they actually go bad. To be safe, always re-heat noodles with meat and animal products to a temperature of 165°F or higher, in order to kill any outstanding bacteria before eating.
Cooked lasagna keeps in the refrigerator for up to five days if stored in a tightly sealed container to keep out excess moisture and other contaminants. The best way to determine whether or not lasagna has turned is to look for dried-out noodles, or a sour smell emanating from the tomato sauce and cheese.
Looking for more info on food safety? Learn 4 Things You Don’t Know About Expiry Dates.