We have all been there. Scrambling to make lunch or dinner and being hit with a sight of leftovers staring us back in the eye. Questions run through our mind..."Is that still good? It's not THAT old, right? Maybe if I put enough salt I won't notice? Wait, is that mold or just flour on top?"
Yeah. Gross. But a reality.
Because of what I call the "leftover phenomena" - I want to share with you two insights.
1) When is the threshold reached of food being no longer safe or recommended for consumption?
2) How do I ensure I don't get to the point where food needs to be thrown out??
Let's start with point number one- guidelines put forth by the Food Safety Division of the US Government are listed in the chart below. The refrigeration column is meant to give you a rough idea on when to check on what is in the fridge and how long it has been there for. In general, most foods can be frozen indefinitely, but after a while their quality will change. If you have specific questions about that, list it in the comments section!
Keep in mind that once a consumer buys food they are then responsible to prepare, cook, and eat it in safe conditions. One rule of thumb is to thaw meat/chicken in the fridge overnight and not on the counter. Bacteria loves to grow and populate on meat/chicken in warmer temperatures. And although it is true that many bacteria can be killed in the cooking process, that is not true for all bacteria.
Here are some guidelines for evaluating what might be mysteriously lurking in your fridge:
In terms of point number two, one of the hardest parts of leftovers is having to "waste" food. I am using quotations here because once food is not fit for consumption you are doing yourself and those in your household a favor by throwing it out! Who wants to take the risk of getting sick? Not me!
Make sure to date leftovers (if you know they will be in your fridge for a while) it can be extremely helpful to know when their "safe for consumption life" will end. And through the course of the week, eat the oldest leftovers first. Additionally, for those who are Shabbat observant, a natural time for us to make space in our fridge is when we begin cooking for Shabbat. Why? Because of the fact that you need more room! As a result, use that time on Thursday night/Friday afternoon to clean out what might be trash and make note of what is still fresh.
Remember, pushing things to the back of the fridge can only work for so long. Mold and aging foods reek of smell and will be sure to impact your life. By putting in the effort before leftovers enter your fridge (dating them and putting the oldest in the front) it will ensure less food waste and more safe consuming of all kinds of foods. Additionally, if there are some meals that have more leftovers than others, reassess how much your making. Maybe you can make less, or be sure to recreate the leftovers into a delicious lunch or have it come back as another night of dinner in disguise!
Enjoy eating your "fresh" leftovers and I hope this Thursday night and Friday afternoon gives you the chance to give your fridge a cleanout makeover!