Big Mistakes You're Making When Taking Home Leftovers

When having dinner at your favorite restaurant, you may find yourself heading home with a "doggy bag," or leftovers. Some people might enjoy this food as a late night snack or for lunch the following day, while others may wait a few days and eat the leftovers for dinner. However you plan to tackle your take-home treats, chances are you are making some big mistakes with your leftover food.

Upon getting your boxed or bagged-up food home, you may be tempted to place them on the counter while you wash your hands or change your clothes. This might lead to getting your Friday night movie started or hopping in the shower, having those leftovers on the counter quickly forgotten about, only to have you throw them in the refrigerator a few hours later. 

The problem with that, described by the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, is the "danger zone," or temperature between 40 and 140 degrees F, where toxic bacteria grows on perishable food. Leaving your leftovers out for more than two hours increases the risk for harmful bacteria growth, which can cause illnesses like gastrointestinal distress, and even a nasty bout of food poisoning.

Storage is crucial when saving leftovers

Another mistake you may be making when bringing home leftovers is the manner in which you store them. In an interview with Eat This, Not That!, Meredith Carothers, a technical information specialist at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, shares some tips for safely storing and eating leftovers. She says that refrigerating your restaurant remnants in the container they came with, perhaps a brown paper bag or a Styrofoam container, is a big mistake.

Perishable foods, even when cooked, should be stored in airtight containers, like Tupperware, or tightly secured in resealable storage bags to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria growing on the food (via Taste of Home).

Another common mistake made with saving leftovers is waiting too long to eat them. Carothers reports that, "All cooked foods and leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days after cooking. After that, they can start to spoil." She suggests that, if you happen to have a lot of food leftover, to store them safely in the freezer to eat at a later time.