How Long Can You Keep Leftovers?

Nicole Austin

Leftovers are a great way to prep food in advance and keep yourself on a budget - but how long can you keep leftovers?

If you're like me, you love leftovers! Leftovers make for the easiest weekday lunches and helps you stick to a budget - but how long can you keep leftovers?

As convenient as it sounds, you can't keep leftovers hanging around in the fridge for too long or foodborne illness becomes a real risk.

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How Long Are Leftovers Good For?

First thing's first and straight to the point - leftovers are best used within 3 to 4 days and erring on the lesser of those is always best.

You might hear differently from your grandma or a college student on an impossibly tight budget, but the fact is that food can only keep so long before harmful bacteria starts to grow.

The bacteria that causes food poisoning does not typically change the taste, smell, or look of the food, so something that appears to be as good as it was the day you packaged it up may not be as safe as it seems.

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How to Store Leftovers

Items that perish quickly (think along the lines of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs) should not sit at room temperature longer than two hours, or even one hour at temperatures above 90.

Only keep and reuse foods that were properly stored after preparation to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Even food items such as salads or sandwiches should be eaten or refrigerated as soon as possible.

Bacteria multiplies quickly in moderate temperatures, so anything between 40 to 140°F is going to allow for some unwanted germs to come your way.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to reuse the food within the three to four day window, consider freezing it instead of sticking it in the fridge.

Frozen foods that can be reheated later make for wonderful meals or treats even weeks down the road and will save you both time and money.

Knowing how long you can keep leftovers can also vary a bit depending on the kind of food, so let's break it all down!

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How Long Is Chicken Good for in the Fridge?

Cooked chicken, when stored as soon as possible after preparation, will last 3 to 4 days in the fridge in an airtight container.

Bring life back to leftover chicken by creating pasta dishes, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken pot pie, or chicken soup - you can also prepare and freeze these for later.

With raw chicken, the window shrinks a bit - raw chicken, either whole or pieces, should not be in the fridge longer than 1 to 2 days before being cooked.

If you buy chicken and aren't sure you'll use it in time, consider freezing it - check out our tips for how to thaw chicken fast when you're ready to cook!

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How Long Is Raw Beef Good for in the Fridge?

Raw ground beef can spoil quickly, even in the fridge. For that reason, it is recommended that you use raw beef within 1 to 2 days.

Beef roast, steak, or ribs will stay fresh longer and can generally be kept in the fridge uncooked for 3 to 5 days.

Once heated, leftover beef will last 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Pay attention to the smell and texture of beef to know when it has turned.

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How Long Is Pizza Good for in the Fridge?

Much to the chagrin of any young adult who has had their mom toss out their “perfectly good” week-old pizza, yes, pizza really does go bad eventually. 

So, how long is pizza good for in the fridge? The same standard applies here - properly stored leftover pizza can be kept for 3 to 4 days.

To make sure it stays safe to eat, leftover pizza should be stashed in the fridge within two hours of the delivery guy dropping it off. 

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Are Leftovers Good After 7 Days?

Ok, so you probably have this one figured out by now, but since we get the question, "are leftovers good after 7 days?" quite a bit, let's clarify.

In short, no. Leftovers will generally not be good after the standard recommendation of 3 to 4 days for cooked, properly stored leftovers.

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Nicole is a self-published author of fiction novels, and a lover of food and spending time in the kitchen with her six children. She lives in coastal Maine where she loves exploring new recipes especially those that can save time, money and wow a crowd.