Besides getting together with friends and family, sometimes the best part of a big holiday meal is the leftovers that get reheated and repurposed long after the celebration. But how long is too long when it comes to eating leftovers? And how can we avoid getting food poisoning when cooking at home?
With one of the biggest days for home cooking coming up next week, we thought we’d share these safety tips from our Cooking Matters volunteer and staff instructors, who’ve put together a collection of helpful information in our Cooking Matters at Home Class Resources. These tips will help you avoid foodborne illnesses, make food last longer, and even save money.
The first step to food safety at home is understanding the temperatures that make food safe to eat and those that allow bacteria to thrive. Generally speaking, it’s best to keep food out of the “danger zone” of 40-145°F.
This “danger zone” is one reason you NEVER want to defrost frozen food in warm water or on the counter. Instead, choose one of these three safe options for defrosting depending on when you plan to prepare the food.
- Defrost on the LOWEST SHELF OF YOUR REFRIGERATOR if you’re going to cook the following day.
- Defrost in a BOWL of COLD RUNNING WATER if you’re going to cook the food in the next one or two hours.
- Defrost in the MICROWAVE if you’re going to cook the food right away.
Can I eat this?
How do you know when food has gone bad? The first place to start is the date printed on the packaging. These dates can have different meanings:
- Best by/Best if used by: Peak quality and freshness; not an indicator of health or safety.
- Use by: The final day the product will be at its optimum freshness, flavor, and texture.
- Sell by: Often found on dairy and meat, this is the last day a grocery store can sell a product. Use it within 10 days of this date.
What about foods without a date? Mold is a clear sign that your food has been sitting around for a while, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to toss it.
- Soft foods: If soft foods such as breads, soft cheeses, lunch meats, soft fruits and vegetables, or cooked foods have mold on them, they should be thrown away.
- Hard foods: If hard cheeses or crispy fruits and vegetables have mold on them, cut away the moldy area and eat the rest.
You can also keep food from spoiling by knowing the best techniques for Fridge Storage.
Want more advice for cooking healthy on your budget? Check out all of Community Food Education’s Cooking Matters at Home demos, recipes, tips, and tricks. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.