Families often have delicious leftovers as Memorial Day festivities wrap up. And while that is a great problem to have, it’s crucial to ensure that these leftovers are safe to consume. The general rule: if in doubt, throw it out. Food left outside for too long can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to food poisoning. 

Here are some tips on how to keep your Memorial Day leftovers safe:

The Two-Hour Rule

One of the most important guidelines to follow is the two-hour rule. All perishable items should be refrigerated within two hours of being taken out of the oven or refrigerator. If you’re outdoors and the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, this limit decreases to one hour. After one or two hours, perishable food enters the Danger Zone, which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this temperature range, bacteria can multiply rapidly, posing a significant risk to food safety. If any foods have been left out for more than two hours, it’s best to discard them to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Use Small and Shallow Containers

When storing leftover food, use small and shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer. These containers facilitate faster cooling compared to larger ones, reducing the time in which bacteria can grow. Rapid cooling is essential to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination.

Freeze or Consume Within Four Days

If you plan to keep your leftovers for an extended period, it’s recommended to freeze them within four days. Freezing food prevents the growth of most food-poisoning bacteria. However, the quality of frozen leftovers may deteriorate over time. For optimal taste and texture, consume frozen leftovers within two to six months. When reheating, ensure they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate any potential bacteria.

Proper Reheating Guidelines

Proper reheating is essential to maintain food safety. When using a 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 necessary. Since microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of the food in multiple places using a food thermometer after allowing it to rest.

For sauces, soups, and gravies, bring them to a rolling boil to ensure the entire mixture reaches a safe temperature. Avoid using slow cookers for reheating leftovers, as they do not heat food evenly or quickly enough to ensure safety. Instead, opt for stovetop, microwave, or oven reheating to ensure the food reaches the recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.


By following these guidelines for proper food storage, reheating, and cooking, you can ensure the safety of your Memorial Day leftovers and protect yourself and your loved ones from potential foodborne illnesses. For more specific information on the storage duration of various foods, refer to the FDA’s helpful chart.

Cooking food safely and implementing proper storage practices are essential steps in enjoying a delicious and safe post-Memorial Day feast. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out. Your health and safety are far more valuable than any leftover meal

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