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Eating leftovers is a great way to save time and money - and fight food waste. Follow these simple steps to reduce your risk of food poisoning and make the most of your meals.

Keep it cool

  • Cool and cover leftovers and put them in a fridge or freezer within 2 hours (see the 2-hour/4-hour rule below).  
  • Splitting leftovers into smaller portions aids faster cooling, which helps prevent bacteria growth. It also helps with portion control and meal planning.
  • Always store leftovers at less than 5˚C and keep them separate from uncooked foods, such as raw meat.
  • Eat leftovers stored in the fridge within 3 days. Cooked rice and pasta should be eaten within 2 days.  
  • Freeze leftovers for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge and use within 24 hours of defrosting.
  • Throw away leftovers if they've been out of the fridge for more than 4 hours.
  • For opened canned food leftovers, follow the manufacturer’s directions for storage and use and take the same precautions as you would for fresh food.  

Reheat to eat

  • Always reheat leftovers to steaming hot (at least 60˚C). Reheating leftovers kills harmful bacteria that may have grown since it was cooked.
  • Stir microwaved food while heating to ensure it is hot all the way through.
  • Never reheat rice and pasta more than once and make sure it is steaming hot.
  • Take extra care with takeaway rice. It should be eaten soon after purchasing as some businesses may pre-cook rice and re-heat it before it is served.

The 2-hour/4-hour rule

Temperature control is very important to prevent harmful bacteria from growing in certain types of food. Food poisoning bacteria grow best between temperatures of 5°C and 60°C - also known as the ‘temperature danger zone’.

To minimise your risk of food poisoning, follow the 2-hour/4-hour rule. If your leftover food has been out of the fridge for:

  • less than 2 hours – use it now, or put it back in the fridge for later
  • between 2 and 4 hours – use it now or throw it out, and
  • after 4 hours, throw the food out.

The time between 5°C and 60°C is cumulative — that means you need to add up every time the food has been out of the fridge.

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