Tips for Reheating Leftovers

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
reheating leftover pizza

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Saving leftovers to eat later is a great way to avoid overeating while also saving money and fighting food waste. And between soccer practice, music lessons and other after-school activities, your children may be home late for dinner. If you're saving dinner for later, make sure you properly refrigerate and reheat the leftovers.

Before you reheat and eat, follow these simple steps to reduce your risk of food poisoning

  • Do not let leftovers sit at room temperature for longer than two hours.
  • Store leftovers that need reheating in the fridge (set at 40°F or below according to a refrigerator thermometer) in a clean, airtight container.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165°F. A food thermometer is the only reliable way to ensure safety and determine the doneness of cooked foods.
  • Be sure to label leftovers to keep track of when they were made. And remember, when in doubt, throw it out!

What Type of Meal Reheater are You?

  • Refrigerator Raider. When it comes to refrigerating leftovers, Americans are losing their cool! More than a third of people typically keep their refrigerator set at 40°F or higher. And, 41 percent admit they don’t know the proper temperature to which their refrigerator should be set. Don’t let bacteria shorten your leftovers' life — use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure your fridge is always set below 40°F.
  • Repeater Eater. Nearly 9 out of 10 people reheat leftovers before eating them — versus nibbling them cold right out of the fridge. But 97 percent of leftover lovers do not use a food thermometer to ensure doneness of foods. Next time you reheat, use a food thermometer to make sure food reaches the proper internal temperature of 165°F before you eat.
  • Pizza Prowler. Believe it or not, 36 percent of people admit to eating leftover pizza from the night before… even if it hasn’t been refrigerated! Pizza, like all perishable foods, follows the two-hour rule: If pizza has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours, toss it!
  • Doggie Bag Diner. Who says you can’t take it with you? When eating out, nearly 40 percent of restaurant patrons leave at least some of the time with a doggie bag or leftovers to eat for another meal. If you’re a doggie bag diner, write the date of purchase on your take-out container — and remember to discard leftovers within three to five days.
  • Microwave Maniac. The most popular use for microwaves is reheating leftovers. If your microwave isn’t equipped with a turntable, you may need to take extra precautions to make sure leftover food is cooked throughout. Rotate food one-half turn midway through the heating time and give it a stir to eliminate cold spots where bacteria can survive. Then let food stand for one minute before inserting a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the proper internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Dinner Defroster. Nearly half of Americans use their microwaves to defrost frozen meat. Since juices from raw meat may carry harmful bacteria, dinner defrosters should take special precautions to avoid cross-contamination. Use separate plates — one to defrost meat and another to serve cooked meat — or wash plates in warm, soapy water between uses to eliminate bacteria.

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