5 signs you should immediately toss your leftover food

Flickr/Kathleen FranklinLeftovers don’t last forever.
  • Unlike pre-packaged foods with “best by” dates, it can be harder to tell if homemade leftovers are still OK to consume.
  • Using your senses and best judgment is often the best way to determine if food is still fine to eat.
  • If your food has changed texture, smell, or colour, you might want to toss it.
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Nobody likes wasting perfectly good food, but since leftovers don’t come with convenient “best by” and “sell by” dates, it can be hard to determine whether your homemade dishes are OK to eat or not.

Here are some signs you may want to get rid of your leftovers instead of eating them.


As a general rule, no food should be in your fridge for longer than a few days.

ShutterstockIf leftovers have been chilling in your fridge for over a week, you’ll definitely want to toss them.

According to State Food Safety, leftover food should be tossed after one week – but according to the USDA, a number of foods should actually be thrown out before that seven-day mark.

For example, per the USDA, cooked patties, soups, stews, and casseroles, should be in your fridge for no longer than three or four days.

That said, if you’re unsure of how long a food has been in your fridge, there are a few other signs you should toss your leftovers.


Mould is generally a sign that food is past its prime.

kongsak sumano/ShutterstockMould just doesn’t occur on fresh cheese, bread, and fruit — it can grow on your leftovers if given enough time.

If your food looks moldy, it should be thrown out immediately.

According to USDA guidelines, moulding foods can have invisible bacteria and some forms of mould can cause illness, allergic reactions, and respiratory problems.

If a food shows no sign of mould, but you’re still unsure if you can eat it or not, try another method of inspecting it for freshness.


Toss your leftovers if their colour has changed.

ShutterstockThings should be the same colour they were when you first made them.

Before you eat anything, carefully check the food and ask yourself if all of the components are the same colour as they were when you cooked them. For example, if beef turns from brown to grey or lettuce goes from green to brown.

If a food no longer looks like the colour it is supposed to be, then it’s likely unsafe to eat.

This leftover-checking method is most effective for meals that contain fresh ingredients such as produce, meat, and fresh dairy. For meals made with ingredients that contain preservatives, colour can be misleading and you may want to look for other red flags.


If the food doesn’t smell appetizing or the smell has changed dramatically, it’s probably best to throw it away.

ShutterstockYou might be able to tell by the smell alone.

Per the USDA, a rotten, unappetizing smell is a tell-tale sign that your leftovers are ready to be tossed out. Generally, your leftovers should smell the same as when you cooked them.


If the texture of your food has changed, find something else to eat.

ShutterstockA layer of slimy film is a solid reason to toss the food.

If you’re still unsure about the status of your leftovers check the food’s texture. If food feels slimy or otherwise has a drastic texture change, then it is likely spoiled.


The best way to ensure your food is safe to eat is to err on the side of caution and follow your gut instinct.

Hamik/ShutterstockBe careful to store foods properly using airtight containers and labels.

Ultimately, if you’re not sure if something is safe to eat you may just want to err on the side of caution, toss it, and try new ways of avoiding food waste moving forward.

For example, you can label your leftovers with dates and follow a FIFO (first in, first out) system. This is the practice of using and consuming foods based on when they went into the fridge or freezer.

The oldest food is always used first to help reduce food waste and ensure food quality.

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