When it comes to food safety, it can be hard to know what rules to live by. Some people toss leftover food within a day or two, while others will eat them a week later. Follow our food safety guide to help prevent bacterial contamination and foodborne illnesses at home.
FACT. Food safety experts recommend transferring cooked food to the refrigerator within one hour during the summer months, and within two hours at all other times of year. Leaving food out longer than two hours can cause bacteria to grow and contaminate your food.
MYTH. You should never thaw frozen foods at room temperature. Bacteria can generate quickly once the internal temperature of food rises above 40 degrees, so frozen foods should always be thawed in the refrigerator, in a cold water bath or in the microwave. Unknown to many people, it’s also OK to cook food from a frozen state — just know that your cooking time will increase by about 50%.
MYTH. While vigilance is important when it comes to food safety, a power outage doesn’t always necessitate restocking your entire fridge. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours after a power outage, while a full, unopened freezer can maintain its temperature for up to 48 hours. If your freezer is only partly full and unopened, that time drops to about 24 hours. Better safe than sorry when it comes to food safety, so if you’re in doubt, it’s better to throw food out.
FACT. Confusion over expiration dates on foods leads to millions of pounds of food waste every year. When it comes to un-refrigerated foods, “use by” dates represent when the manufacturer believes the food will be at its peak freshness for consumption. “Sell by” dates are actually aimed at helping retailers turn over products quickly in store and have no implication on food safety. Although foods may taste slightly different or have discoloration after a “use by” date passes, they’re usually safe to eat.
MYTH. Leftover foods should be eaten within three or four days of cooking. Storing and consuming leftovers for more than four days after they are cooked can lead to food poisoning. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not usually easy to tell when a food has become contaminated with bacteria, so stick to the four-day rule for maximum safety.