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The Dangers of Leftover Food and How to Avoid Them

In early 2022, the national news media reported the story of a Massachusetts college student who had to have his leg amputated due to food poisoning from leftover lo mein. It turned out that the disease was actually caused by Caused by meningococcal blood infection, not related to spoiled food. But this story serves as a reminder of the importance of leftover safety.

What bacteria are lurking in your leftovers?

Bacteria are hard to find. Too often, contaminated leftovers look, taste and smell good, said Juan Leon, a researcher at Emory University. Here are some common bacterial culprits that may be lurking in food and how to prevent them:

Bacillus cereus : Uncooked pasta or rice may contain a substance called Bacterial spores of Bacillus cereus . Spores are tiny protective capsules that allow bacteria to hibernate until they are ready to grow. These spores can survive high heat, so cooking won’t kill them. After the rice is cooked and cooled to room temperature, the bacteria “wake up” and start growing.

Bacteria and their toxins can make you sick. The longer you leave rice or pasta out, the more likely these bacteria and their toxins are. If you eat contaminated food, you will start vomiting or diarrhea within a few hours. These symptoms can last about 24 hours.

Eat pasta and rice immediately after cooking. After that, cool it down quickly by storing it in the refrigerator. Eat leftovers within 1 day. When you reheat it, check that all the rice is steaming hot. Do not reheat: If you have leftovers after you are done, throw them away.


: Baked potatoes wrapped in foil are a popular and easy side. But potatoes may contain spores of botulinum bacteria. These spores can survive oven temperatures. Under the right conditions, such as when the foil blocks oxygen, these bacteria can grow and produce the deadly toxin that causes botulism. Paralysis and breathing problems usually begin 18-36 hours after eating food contaminated with these toxins.

If baking potatoes in foil, be sure to eat them within 2 hours or put them in the refrigerator.

Clostridium perfringens : These bacteria are closely related to the germs that can contaminate baked potatoes, but Clostridium perfringens Fungus likes leftover meat. Typically, C. perfringens affects dishes such as roast beef and whole turkeys. These spores can start to grow if contaminated meat is cooked at room temperature and left for too long. After you eat contaminated food, bacteria start making toxins in your body. These toxins can cause diarrhea within 6-24 hours.

Always cook meat, especially large batches, to a safe temperature. If you’re serving it as a buffet, use the heat to keep it above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Store leftovers immediately in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat food all the way up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating.

salmonella : You’ve probably heard that you shouldn’t taste raw cookie dough. That’s because eggs and flour can carry Salmonella bacteria. But what about leftover frozen cookie dough from last Christmas? Unfortunately, freezing does not kill bacteria. So frozen cookie dough may still carry Salmonella. This type of bacteria can cause nausea, diarrhea, and fever within hours or days.

Fortunately, it’s easy to remove bacteria from this type of leftover cookie dough: refrigerate immediately, just cook or reheat before serving.

Staphylococcus aureus : Staphylococcus aureus bacteria will Grows on food that has been left for too long. These bacteria are almost everywhere, from our skin to countertops, so food can easily become contaminated. Staphylococci do not form spores, but they produce toxins that cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Reheating food will kill bacteria, but toxins will remain. Bacteria can grow in a variety of foods, including meat, eggs, salads, dairy and baked goods.

Help prevent Staphylococcus poisoning, do not refrigerate leftovers for more than 2 Hour.

The importance of hand washing

Even if your leftovers are refrigerated and stored safely, touching them with dirty hands may introduce new germs, germs, etc.

“For some microbes, you only need a small amount to have a big impact,” Leon said. For example, just 18 norovirus particles are enough to make people sick.

To put that in perspective, an infected person “contains about 10 billion noroviruses per gram of feces [feces], and each of us defecates (poop) about 200 grams of feces ,” according to Leon. These germs can spread easily if you don’t wash your hands before taking that slice of cold pizza.

Leon never skips warm water and soap when preparing leftovers in his own kitchen. “Hands are often the most likely vector to contaminate food,” he said, “so if you pay attention to hand hygiene, you’re generally fine.”

always There are some risks, Leon stressed. “We will never reduce the risk to zero, but what we can do is to reduce the risk as much as possible by developing good food safety habits.”

Leftover Safety Tips

Storing, Thawing, Recycling Heating leftover food presents many opportunities for bacterial growth, as well as other health risks. By following these guidelines, you can help protect yourself from five common bacteria (and others) found in leftovers. Remember to wash your hands before completing these steps.


Bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit or anywhere between refrigerator temperature and a cup of hot tea. These temperatures are known as “food danger zones.”

After eating, cool leftovers quickly so they don’t linger in the danger zone for too long. Do not leave food on the countertop for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher). Put leftovers in the refrigerator immediately, even if they are still hot. If you have a lot of leftovers and are concerned about your refrigerator getting hot, try dividing meals into smaller containers. Smaller parts cool faster than larger ones.

Proper storage will help retain moisture and bacteria. Wrap leftovers tightly or seal in an airtight container.

Most refrigerated leftovers are safe for 3-4 days. If you can’t eat leftovers within 4 days, freeze them. They usually keep safe in the refrigerator for 3-4 months.


You Food can be thawed in the refrigerator, cold water or microwave. The refrigerator method is the safest as it keeps the entire dish at a safe temperature at all times. If you use cold water, put food in an airtight bag. Make sure the bag doesn’t have any holes; if it leaks, bacteria in the sink can splash on the food. If you thaw food in the microwave, use a food thermometer to check that leftovers are heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Consume or refreeze thawed food within 3-4 days. If you thaw food using the cold water method, cook leftovers before refreezing.


look for containers marked with microwave safe labels. Do not reheat takeout containers or freezer dinner plates. Glass, paper, ceramics, and certain types of plastics are safe to reheat in the microwave. But some types of plastic contain chemicals that can leak into your food when heated in the microwave. Reheating fatty foods like meat or cheese increases the chance of contamination. These foods can quickly reach high temperatures, causing the plastic to melt. If you use plastic wrap, don’t let it touch hot food.

When reheating food in the microwave, cover the plate and rotate it frequently. Make sure the cover has holes so that steam can escape. Microwaves can leave cold spots, so let the food rest for a minute so the heat can spread. Then check the temperature in several different places. It should be steaming hot all the time.

Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a boil as they reheat them on the stovetop. Cover the pot with a lid to retain moisture and help food reheat evenly.

Whether you use a microwave or stovetop, heat leftovers to 165 degrees F. Check the internal temperature of leftovers with a food thermometer. Don’t reheat things in a pressure cooker because they’re not always hot enough to kill bacteria.

If in doubt…

When in doubt, throw it away. Don’t taste the leftovers in question. You usually cannot taste or smell dangerous bacteria.



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