Don’t eat that bacteria

Food safety guide for leftovers

Learning to cook as a college student is a tricky task, but practicing good food safety can be an even more perplexing topic. Throwing out perished food is a difficult but important choice to preserve your health.

Below are general food safety guidelines gleaned from articles found on Pinterest. They should not be considered absolute rules. If you ever question the safety of a dish, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and “When in doubt, throw it out.”

Food at room temperature

Cecil Wilde of Delishably writes that “the temperature danger zone is probably the most important concept in food safety.” She explained that any food sitting between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit is a prime target for bacteria multiplication. This zone includes any food sitting remotely near room temperature.

To avoid getting sick, keep your food outside of this temperature window whenever possible. “Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics: Learning to Cook with Confidence” recommends keeping both hot and cold foods at room temperature for no more than two hours.

Food in the refrigerator

Abiding by the temperature danger zone is not the only precautionary step you need to take. Both fresh and cooked foods do not last forever in your refrigerator, and they perish sooner than you might expect.

Before putting away your leftovers, though, check to make sure the temperature within your refrigerator or mini fridge stays below at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re worried about a particular food, push it to the back of the shelf away from other items.

Betty Crocker reports that the back of the refrigerator stays cooler than the front or door, and a little breathing room allows food to chill faster.

Betty Crocker recommends keeping the following foods in your refrigerator no longer than these time periods:

  • Opened butter: 2 weeks
  • Cakes and cheesecakes: 3 to 5 days
  • Raw eggs: 3 weeks
  • Jams and jellies: 1 year
  • Dairy: varies by item

For already cooked foods, Franciscan Health, a hospital network that publishes health information, offers some specific guidelines for how long you can keep different types of leftovers:

  • Cooked fresh vegetables: 3 to 4 days
  • Cooked pasta: 3 to 5 days
  • Cooked rice: 1 week
  • Stews or soups: 3 to 4 days
  • Cooked meats and casseroles: 3 to 4 days

Food in the freezer

While freezers can preserve your food longer than any of the other methods, they are not foolproof. Even ice cream does not last forever in the freezer.

According to Wilde, the “gooey, slightly darker crust” found under the lid of an open tub of ice cream is the beginning of a bacteria coup d’état. After extended time spent in the freezer, ice cream is one of many foods that are prone to the proliferation of dangerous bacteria.

To truly be considered a freezer, the temperature in your freezer should remain colder than 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are some of Betty Crocker’s recommendations for keeping food in the freezer:

  • Breads and frosted cakes: 2 to 3 months
  • Ice cream: 2 to 4 months
  • Cooked meats: 2 to 3 months
  • Cooked poultry: 4 months
  • Cooked shellfish: 1 to 2 months

No matter how hungry or broke you are, ask yourself if it’s worth catching a foodborne illness and missing class, work and social activities. If you’re serving food to other people, it’s even more important to be careful to avoid getting others sick.

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