Leftover Advice

By Global Master Chef Karl Guggenmos

Sometimes I really wish we could go back to the old days when we had no refrigeration.  Sounds crazy, right? But think about it. If we were forced to just cook our food for the day, the exact number of people, and the exact number of meals per day, we would eat a lot healthier and would certainly save money. 

Well, I grew up that way. We did not have a refrigerator, let alone a freezer, until I was 14…..and THAT was in 1964!!!!!!!  Neither my mom nor my dad believed in this. We would buy all of our food fresh, every day — from milk to bread to vegetables and everything else, except dry goods, which were purchased during my mom’s daily round to the different shops. To be honest I think she also loved these trips because it was a great way for gossiping with the neighbors.

Today, we function differently and absolutely need refrigeration. What’s changed?  

It’s very difficult to buy small portions of food in modern grocery stores, except maybe fruits and vegetables. Also, “empty nesters” parents still cook portions as if the kids are still coming home for dinner. Old habits die hard. And, certain cultures simply have a tendency to naturally cook in large quantities, no matter how many people are expected to eat.


I have been to Asia and the Middle East and have friends from these regions living here in the US. Without exception, they cook for 100 people (ok maybe I’m exaggerating just a little…but you get the point) even though it may just be 4 or six of us. At the core of it, the variety and quantities are about providing great hospitality. Of course, we ALL overcook during the holidays. No matter what the reason, producing more food than required for that day naturally means leftovers and, of course, no one wants to throw them away.


So, the next obvious question, is there a best way to safely store leftovers? And how do you know when it’s time to throw them out? Yes, safe storage is very important. Did you know that 1 out of 6 Americans suffer from a food borne illness every year? That is pretty scary. The number could even be higher because even a headache or sluggish feeling could be because of consuming spoiled food.


So, the next time you go to pack up your leftovers, consider these guidelines:


  1. Keep in mind that bacteria is never completely eradicated no matter what cooking method is used.
  2. Different foods have different spoilage times.  
    1. Protein spoils faster than carbs, fruits and vegetables. 
    2. Remember leftovers can contain all of these.
  3. Look for obvious signs:
    1. Odd colors, such as ash grey, brown, white spots, green.
    2. Smell, a sure sign of spoilage.
    3. Mold, do not cut the mold off and eat the rest. Mold indicates complete spoilage.
  4.  An important factor to consider is how fast the food was cooled down after cooking.
    1. Make sure that the food never remains in room temperature for more than 2 hours and 
    2. Cool it down as fast as possible.
  5.  Cover leftovers with film or keep it in an airtight container.
  6.  Do not reheat leftovers more than one time.
  7.  As a general rule, don’t keep leftovers more than 2-3 days in the refrigerator.



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