Never eat leftovers left at room temperature for 2 hours or more

When it comes to quick and easy meals, leftovers can be a real lifesaver. But whether you’re tossing last night’s pizza slices in the oven or reheating Sunday’s soup, there’s always the chance there’s something wrong with your food. So before you delve into it, you should know that doctors warn that some leftovers could be putting your health at risk. Read on to see which foods in your fridge you should immediately discard.

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Sometimes, after preparing and eating a big meal, it can be easy to forget that there is still extra food on the stove. Or maybe you’ve absentmindedly forgotten about the half-eaten spaghetti you took home from last night’s dinner on the counter. Whatever the case, experts warn that anything left out of the fridge for a while is no longer safe to consume.

“Cooling your leftovers quickly, within two hours, to fridge or freezer temperature is considered safe,” Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic, told USA Today. “You want to help the food get to fridge temperature faster,” she said, while recommending using shallow containers that allow the food to spread out so it can cool more quickly.

As painful as it is to toss that perfect dough, experts warn that the only way to deal with leftovers that have been left out for too long is to throw them away. At the wrong temperatures, bacteria “grows in foods that have been left out for too long or can produce a toxin in the food,” Frank Esper, MD, physician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Infectious Disease Center, told USA Today, including meatless items such as pasta, rice and beans.

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), this means that any dishes that have been left out for two or more hours should be thrown away. And be careful with your summer barbecue buffet: the agency also warns that food that is sitting in warmer temperatures above 90 degrees should be thrown out after an hour.

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Heating your food back to the right temperature to eat is more than just the comfort of a hot meal. It is also essential to get rid of any microorganisms that could make you sick.

“It’s recommended that you reheat leftovers to a temperature that’s hot enough, being 165 degrees, to ensure it’s safe to eat, that this bacterial load has been controlled,” Zeratsky told USA Today. To make sure you’re reaching that temperature, it’s recommended to use a food thermometer, especially if it’s in the microwave. The USDA also recommends covering your leftovers as they heat to retain moisture and ensure your food has been heated throughout.

Even if you manage to get your food in the fridge too soon, you’re still dealing with a limited amount of time to enjoy your leftovers safely. According to the USDA, refrigerated foods are only good for three to four days in the refrigerator and should be thrown away after that.

If you plan on getting the most out of a big meal, the freezer might be the best option. The agency says frozen foods are good for three to four months but should still be thrown away. “While safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored longer in the freezer,” the agency writes on its website.

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