Leftovers after a seriously impressive meal (Christmas lunch, for example) is one of the greatest parts of the holiday season. Taking a plate full of your favourite dishes and snacking on them while watching a cheesy Christmas film is exactly what the festive season is about – if you ask me.
The thing is, it’s not always safe to dig into day-old dishes.
We probably all have a vague idea of some of the food ‘rules’ we need to remember when it comes to storing leftover food. Wait for it to cool down, don’t leave it on the bench overnight, eat it within a reasonable timeline.
The thing is, not all foods and dishes behave the same way when it comes to the possibility of food poisoning.
If you need a refresher, these are the foods you’ll need to pay special attention to.
Foods that need to be stored properly and eaten quickly
Rice might come as a surprise entry on this list for some but it’s one of the big contenders when it comes to danger leftovers. As Australia’s Food Safety Information Council notes, heat resistant bacteria slowly forms on cooked rice once it starts to cool and chucking it in the fridge only slightly slows it down. Zapping it in the microwave does little to kill it off so you should eat leftover rice immediately and definitely within a day or two if not.
Pasta has the same problem as rice. That nasty bacteria, Bacillus cereus, forms toxins once its cooked so it’ll need to be chucked within a day or two if you want to avoid the risk of feeling sick.
Sensing a theme here but potatoes, once cooled after cooking, can also contain a particularly nasty bacteria called Botulism. To avoid getting hit with it, eat the tatters as soon as you can after preparing.
The spuds also come with a naturally forming toxin called glycoalkaloid that isn’t killed while cooking. Usually, the levels are quite low but you’ll need to cut off any sprouts or green parts and chuck the potato out if this still tastes bitter after cooking. Nasty stuff.
Shellfish can present all sorts of potential risks but let’s say you’ve bought it from a certified seafood seller, you’ll still need to eat it within two days if it’s been refrigerated. You’ll have a little longer if it’s been frozen.
If you’ve then gone and cooked it, we’re here to remind you to eat those leftovers ASAP to avoid any of that bacteria build up. Are you seeing the theme here yet?
Fish lasts a little longer than shellfish but has the same sort of issues. Once it’s been cooked, you’ll want to avoid it getting what I’m calling ‘fridge yuck’. The longer you leave it, the more likely you’ll get stung with fridge yuck sickness.
Chicken is delicious but comes with the risk of salmonella. To avoid that and the chance of it multiplying in your fridge before you take an unsuspecting bite, make sure you cook it at 75 degrees Celcius to kill some of it off. You’ll still need to eat it soon and to make sure you’re reheating it evenly when you’re finishing it off.
Mushrooms tend to also give you stomach cramps if you reheat them after improper storage. As The Independent reports, Europe’s food safety council insists on eating leftovers within 24 hours of cooking and at a temperature of at least 70 degrees Celcius.
As an aside, it’s also important you’re cooking the food properly in the first place to ensure any nasties prone to heat are killed off before you take a bite. The government’s HealthDirect has provided a handy infographic to make sure you’re preparing these common food correctly.
Eat safe and enjoy.
This article was originally published in September 2020.