5 signs you shouldn't eat your leftovers, according to an expert

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 good.
  • INSIDER spoke with a registered dietitian and nutritionist to find out what signs to look for in spoiled leftovers.
  • Using your senses and best judgment is the best way to determine if food is still good.

There’s no better way to save money, eat healthier, and improve your cooking skills than to prepare food at home. Whether you’re meal prepping healthy lunches for the week or cooking for your family, cooking at home guarantees one thing for sure – leftovers.

Nobody likes wasting perfectly good food, but unlike pre-packaged foods which feature convenient “best by” and “sell by” dates, it can be hard to determine whether your homemade leftovers are good to eat or not.

According to State Food Safety, people should typically follow the seven-day rule when it comes to leftovers. “Perishable foods that are opened or prepared should be thrown out after seven days. No leftovers should survive in your fridge for longer than that.” But some foods should even be tossed out before that seven-day mark.

To find out more about what to look for when it comes to your leftovers, INSIDER spoke with food and nutrition expert Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.”

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

kongsak sumano/ShutterstockMould is a surefire way to know it’s time to toss the leftovers.

Mould just doesn’t occur on fresh cheese, bread, and fruit, but, it can grow on your leftovers if given enough time. Taub-Dix said that if your food looks moldy, it should be thrown out immediately.

If the 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.

If the colour of your leftovers has changed — toss them.

liz west/FlickrThings 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. Meaning, check whether meat has turned grey or green lettuce has turned brown. Taub-Dix told INSIDER that if food no longer looks like the colour its supposed to be, then it’s likely unsafe to eat.

This 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. If you’re unsure, move on to one of the other methods.

Take a whiff of your food. If it doesn’t smell appetizing or the smell has changed dramatically, it’s best to throw it away.

Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty ImagesYou might be able to tell by the smell alone.

We’ve all had that moment where we open up the fridge and are immediately hit with a bad, spoiled-food smell. This is a tell-tale sign that your leftovers are ready to be tossed out.

According to Taub-Dix, food that smells bad or even slightly funny is no longer fresh enough to eat. If still good, your leftovers should smell the same as when you cooked them.

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

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

After checking food for mould, discoloration, and odd smells: if you’re still unsure about the status of your leftovers check the food’s texture. Taub-Dix said that 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/ShutterstockIf you aren’t sure, it might be best to just throw it out.

Taub-Dix told INSIDER, “One of my mottos is, ‘When in doubt, throw it out.’ You might feel like you don’t want to waste money by throwing out food … but if you eat food that’s spoiled you could end up spending more money on doctor bills or spending more time sick and away from the stuff you love to do.”

To avoid wasting food, it is best to label your leftovers with dates and follow FIFO (first in, first out). This is a restaurant food safety practice of using food products 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.

Taub-Dix suggested that to extend the life of their leftovers, people should store and reheat everything properly.

She advised, “Keep foods refrigerated at proper temperatures. Don’t leave food out on counters if they’re supposed to be refrigerated or frozen. Heat foods up to proper temperatures to prevent bacterial growth. Cover and store foods properly in the fridge or in your pantry.”

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