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how long does cooked food last?

i usually get timid after a week in the fridge, but that seems like a purely arbitrary timeframe. so maybe folks could give me some guidelines for how long a couple of different kinds of dishes are safe to eat once in the fridge.

dish A: has onions, celery, carrot, beans, cabbage, potatoes
(and would it make any difference if the dish had a meat in it, like sausage?)

dish b: rice

dish c: marinated and cooked chicken thighs with onions

thank you so much for help and/or links!

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  1. My opinion is it depends on whether or not any of the food has touched your hands first before going into the refrigerator. That simple act accelerates food spoilage.

    Three days is fine, five can be safe......even longer still at times. Myself, if it smells or is slimy, it goes in the trash.

    1. Hands, shmands - is that stuff cooled or hot when you put it in the fridge? Did it sit on the counter? For how long? Is that rice plain or does it have butter or oil in it? How cold is the fridge? (there's a whole list of requirements for safe food handling, even in home kitchens - and the best answer to this probably lies in additional facets such as - how squeamish are you? are you especially sensitive to food-related illnesses? do you have any immune-system issues? There are some things I might go ahead and eat, but wouldn't offer to, say, someone with a weakened immune system, or a "sensitive" tummy.) Your best course is to familiarize yourself with the safe food standards - and go from there.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Alice Letseat

        It's official.....toss it all out and no leftovers for you....:0)

        1. re: Alice Letseat

          stuff is lukewarm when i put it in the fridge: i let things cool to room temp before putting in fridge (fridge is for keeping things cold, not mkaing them cold, and if you put hot foods in fridge it brings the temp up on everything else in there)

          i put a couple drops of oil in my rice when i cook it

          i'm not particularly sensitive to food illnesses (just poorly prepared ackee but that's another story)

          i guess i'm suprised that a lot of folks seem to have adopted the one week rule: it just seems so arbitrary for me.

          i know there are tons of food safety guidelines for restaurants, but those don't usually apply since they're not making one dish, putting it in the fridge, and reheating it the next day or three days later (or at least i hope not)

          1. re: mr mouther

            when I worked at the Radisson, one week was the rule. It was also the rule used by the sanitation inspectors, so I don't know how arbitrary it really was. And we DID make a big portion of a dish, refrigerate it, and then heat it up as needed. (soups, sauces, etc.)

            1. re: dagwood

              the reason i said it was arbitrary is because days don't necessarily need to be divided into weeks (just as the 8 hour workday is a facet of history, not divine guidance.) - but that discusion should be saved for my academic message boards re: philosophoes of time anyway.

              on this discussion: i just discovered some mold in my fridge. not in food, but in my tea container. what i usually do is make a bog pot of tea, drink it, and then when its at room temp, add to my iced tea pot in the fridge. i don't know how long that thing stays in there before i clean it (pretty long i'd imagine though, since it just contains tea and i rarely clean it out) but today i saw mold on the side. whoops! any recs for how long i should go before cleaning something like that out and starting over?

              1. re: mr mouther

                until you see mold. :)

                All kidding aside, I puree lemons every few weeks in the summer for lemonade, and keep it until I see visible mold. No one has died yet. And unless someone has a mold allergy, I don't think traces of mold (not yet visible) are going to hurt you.

        2. Usually never lasts a whole week. 1 week to me is tops. Seafood is 3 days for me after cooked. Smoked food I will keep longer like smoked salmon or chicken or pork. But I just don't take chances. I could be completely wrong, but I just don't do it. Never have.

          1. According to health code in Boston, as long as it was prepared properly and cooled quickly, 1 week.

            3 Replies
              1. re: scubadoo97

                Same here. If leftovers are in my fridge after a week, I will usually toss them, or at least look at/smell them very carefully. That's usually when that familiar spousal conversation starts.
                "Smell this. Is it still good?"
                "I don't want to smell it. If you're not sure, toss it."
                "But it smells fine to me. What do you think?"

                1. re: scubadoo97

                  One week and then tossed. The only exception is fish, which I only give a couple of days.

              2. I don't remember where I heard it, but 2+2=4; in other words, refrigerate it within 2 hours, in a container 2 inches or less and it will be good for 4 days. Overall, common sense should previal, if it looks or smells off , throw it out.

                3 Replies
                1. re: goldy12

                  This sounds like an interesting rule of thumb. But I don't understand the 2 inches rule. Does that mean less than two inches of air left in the container after the food is put in?

                  1. re: Aimee

                    I've never heard of this rule, but I suspect it's the depth of food in the container (so it chills quickly).

                    1. re: hsk

                      That's my interpretation of it. Chill the food quickly by putting it in smaller containers. 2+2=4 is just an easy way to remember it.

                2. For myself I tend to use the sniff test. For feeding others I err on the safe side. I guess I have eaten so many aging leftovers that my system is almost immune to common biologic problems. There are some exceptions to the sniff barrier. Some foodstuffs can cause illness before becoming smelly, especially if not enclosed. White rice is one such beastie. You can however cure cooked food. So if you have a piece of beef you want to save till next week then put it in a brine solution for 2-3 hours. It will last longer (and taste saltier).

                  Cooked fish lasts a lot longer than uncooked. And it can also be brined.

                  1. personal guidelines for cooked stuff in my fridge not based in scientific fact:
                    fish = 1 day
                    meat = a week + 1
                    cold cuts = 4 days (cheese = forever)
                    plain rice = 4 days then freeze it
                    pasta = 4 days then freeze it
                    I actually freeze tons of stuff after a few days... frozen cake is my favorite!
                    Is it safe? Not sure.
                    I may have mentioned before, I have a friend who keeps eating off his stored-in-fride leftovers for weeks. It only makes me sick to think about because I have a REALLY good memory of the few times I have gotten a mouthful of food that had gone bad. (insert green/gagging face here)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Boccone Dolce

                      My smoked salmon 1 week, but salt brine and smoked
                      Fresh 2 nights after dinner tops
                      cold cuts, way more than 4, 1 week easily but not much more
                      Agree with all the rest.

                      Any slime, odd smell, doesn't look right, NO WAY. Had a little salmon left 1 week old today, brined and smoked ... froze it. It will be fine in a pasta or quesadilla later this week. for an easy dinner.

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        Yeah K- I was thinking the other day I think I eat with my NOSE first and not my eyes like the saying goes... If it smells AMAZING but looks a little crappy, I'm much more willing to take a nibble than if it smells like CRAP but is quite lovely.
                        I have smoked salmon in my deep freezer- just waiting for a good avocado to come into my life so I can make some Smoked Salmon Salad Rolls...

                        1. re: Boccone Dolce

                          Smoked salmon rolls sound good, what do you make yours with, spring rolls, quesdailla, lettuce? I make mine often with a mix of red onion, a little sour cream and dill mix, tomato, avacado and the smoked salmon and wrap in lettuce leaves. A quick side to dinner, You can add anything you want to it. I love spring rolls to. Always trying to come up with new combos for that.

                          Love to know what else you add

                    2. My dad is always asking calling me to ask if it's safe to eat a particular item that's been in his fridge a few days. I always tell him that as long as it doesn't smell, and he heats it up thoroughly then he'll probably be fine. He's still alive, so I guess that system works!

                      I will usually be fine with eating leftovers upto a week. After that, it depends on what's in it, and I rely on the sniff test.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: berbadeerface

                        Yeah the key is to reheat it thoroughly. Leftovers are fine as long as they smell fine and are reheated. I think a week is stretching it, I usually freeze leftovers unless I'm pretty sure I'll get to it within a day or two.

                        1. re: hsk

                          If food is cooled quickly and properly and reheated thoroughly then up to a week should be fine (not including seafood here). I know that is not what the authorities would say, but the food I use is very fresh and I've never had a problem with getting sick. Generally it will smell funky if it is.

                      2. We've all heard the expression "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". I wonder to what extent our digestive / immune systems learn to cope with our diet. We know that the local (usually microscopic) flora and fauna can contribute to Delhi belly, Djakarta farter and so on.. Asians coming to North America can have the same problems. So are people who follow a strict regime of chucking out leftovers well before the gone-mouldy date more susceptible to food poisoning? I have a suspicion this is true, but no facts to back it up. Except for a statistical analysis on a sample of one.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Paulustrious

                          To a certain extent you're correct in suggesting that people acquire immunity through exposing themselves to questionable foods. This is why in developing nations the locals can eat the food and drink the water generally without ill effect whilst travelers from developed nations need to be wary.

                          Essentially whether you get sick depends in the contaminating organism. There are bacteria (such as some strains of E. coli) to which immunity can be acquired by routine exposure. However, this immunity is only transitory and any extended absence of exposure means that you will get sick (albeit perhaps not as sick as the first time you were exposed) if you are re-exposed. It is worth noting that the E.coli strains alluded to are those that arise from poor hygiene/handling (i.e. the faecal-oral route).

                          However, there are other pathogens which will always cause illness upon exposure. Hence, left over rice and pasta (and other cereals) can be risky as they may be colonised by Bacillus cereus whose toxin will cause sudden and extreme vomiting within an hour of exposure. Likewise Salmonella spp. will also always cause illness, as will Staph. aureus (in food based exposures, frequently chicken).

                          The type of bacteria colonising your food isn't simply the result of your own storage and handling practices but also relating to the handling practices of those growing/harvesting/butchering/transport etc.

                          It is also worth noting that bacteria have many ingenious methods for escaping death - some are resistant to heat, others drying. Not only that it is not simply whether the bacteria is alive or dead that determines whether you get ill. Food poisoning by it's truest definition is a bacterial toxin mediated illness, and doesn't necessarily require the bacteria to be alive when you consume the food - the toxin's presence is all that is required, the toxin can also be heat stable (that is unaffected by heating).

                          The point of this is not to be alarmist but to point out that food-bourne illnesses and pathogens are highly conditional risks that are resistant to blanket judgments. Having said that I would suggest that if you don't anticipate consuming (or haven't consumed) your left-overs within a few days of their preparation then pop them in the freezer and enjoy them at a later date.

                          1. re: irisav

                            Thank you for that answer. Your point about 'blanket judgements' is well made. My main fear is a foodstuff that is worse than it smells. By the time fresh fish is going to make you ill it stinks to high heaven, whereas rice need not. Thank you for the name Bacillus Cereus. That lead to some interesting wiki reading following the cross references.

                            1. re: Paulustrious

                              Yes, well to quote my lecturer "B. cereus, and let me tell you people it's very serious" ha ha.

                              Generally speaking though the home cook need not be too fearful, it becomes more problematic when contained in large cooked quantities at a warm temperature over lengthy periods of time.