Leftover Food Safety

Restaurants may not be what we initially think of when we talk about “leftovers”, but we should. We don’t think of the food we eat in a restaurant as being anything other than super fresh – and made the moment we order it. But the fact is, on a daily basis, restaurant kitchen personnel put food away for another day. So how do we define leftovers? When it comes to commercial kitchens, any food prepared and not used is considered a leftover. Today, we will consider how to properly store leftovers and in the right situation, how to reheat leftovers to ensure we are handling the food safely and with the lowest opportunity for food-borne illness.

Did you know that improper cooling of foods is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks? Here are some tips to ensure proper cooling and storing of leftovers.

  • Hot foods can move directly from holding pans to refrigerators provided they are properly covered. The key here is to cover the food entirely and allow it to quickly reduce its temperature, ensuring the food’s time in the food temperature danger zone is kept to a minimum. (Food temperature danger zone is the name given to food temperatures between 41 degrees and 140 degrees F)
  • Hot foods can be moved to storage containers that can then be rapidly chilled in ice or cold water baths to move past the food temperature danger zone quickly.
  • Use shallow containers to ensure rapid cooling.
  • Large pots of food should be divided into shallow containers prior to refrigeration.
  • Whole cuts of meat should be divided, wrapped individually and cooled or sealed whole for an ice bath.
  • Throw away foods that have been at room temperature for longer than two hours. In areas where room temperature is above 90 degrees, discard foods after one hour.

Did you know failure to reheat cooked foods to temperatures that kill bacteria is a major cause of foodborne illness? 165...no bacteria gets out alive! Here are some reheating tips.

  • A food thermometer should become your best friend. Use it every time you reheat something from the cooler. Reheated pre-cooked foods should be brought back to a temperature of 165 degrees F for at least 15 seconds.
  • When using a microwave to re-heat foods, you should still ensure food temperatures reach 165 degrees F all the way through.
  • If you cover your leftovers when reheating, you will retain moisture and ensure food heats all the way through.
  • Gravies and sauces need to be brought back to a rolling boil prior to serving.
  • Placing pans of chilled leftover foods in hot holding equipment like steam tables is NOT proper reheating. These units warm the foods too slowly.
  • Leftovers should only be reheated once. If not used on second go, prepared food item should be discarded.

What tips can you add to this list? How does your establishment handle leftovers?


You must be logged in to post a comment.