Having too much food is part of hosting a party or family get-together. With a holiday like the Fourth of July, there’s going to be a lot of leftovers, and that means that most hosts have to figure out how to store them all. 

So what do we do with all these leftovers? And what is still safe to eat?

Follow these guidelines for answers to your leftover questions:

  • Two-hour rule: Al perishable items should be refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. If you are outdoors and the temperature is 90 degrees F or higher the limit is one hour. After one or two hours, perishable food enters the Danger Zone — between 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F — where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food to become unsafe. If foods have been left out for more than two hours, discard items to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Use small and shallow containers: Store leftover food in small, shallow containers in the refrigerator or in the freezer for later use. Shallow containers help cool leftovers more quickly than storing them in large containers.
  • Freeze or consume within four days:  If you want to keep leftovers longer than four days, freeze them. Food poisoning bacteria — except for Listeria and hepatitis A — does not grow in the freezer. Foods that have been in the freezer for months may be dry, or may not taste as good. If you store leftovers in the freezer, the quality will be best within two to six months. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.


  • When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish and add some liquid if needed. Because microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer after allowing a resting time.
  • Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.
  • Do not use slow cookers for reheating.
  • Leftovers are safe to eat once they have reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  •  If you decide to freeze your leftovers, use the Safe Defrosting Methods when you want to reheat.

Curious about how long a specific food will last in the refrigerator or freezer? Check out this helpful chart from the FDA.

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