How to Tell When It’s Time to Toss Your Leftovers (so Your Nose Doesn’t Have to Clue You in)

Photo: Getty Images/Vico Collective Alin Dragulin
Everyone's had that moment of opening up a Tupperware container of last week's dinner or smelling a half-eaten carton of Chinese takeout, and thinking: Wait, is this still good? As food sickness becomes a constant headline these days, it's worth having the food rules for leftovers on hand so you know exactly what you can and can't eat. Because TBH, whoever said taking risks was fun definitely never ate bad sushi.

Outlined here are the official food rules on when it's okay to re-heat your leftovers and when it's time to throw 'em out. As a general note: If you know you won't be able to eat something within four days, definitely put it in the freezer, not the fridge. Because, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection, leftovers can be kept in the fridge for three to four days and in the freezer for three to four months.

Cooked meat and seafood: Anything with meat or cooked fish in it has a fridge shelf life of three to four days. This includes meat sauce for pasta, lasagna, chicken enchiladas, a salmon frittata...all of it. The major giveaway it's past it's due date? It smells and has a slimy white film developing over it. Let's not let it come to that.

Sushi: Raw fish goes bad quicker than cooked fish. If your sushi is older than 24 hours, throw it out. The same applies for that poke bowl you brought home, too.

Cheesy pasta: Moldy cheese is a good thing, right? Actually, cheesy sauces can turn rancid after a few days. Your best bet is to throw any dishes with dairy out after two to three days. If the cheese sauce smells bad or has turned colors, it's definitely time for it to hit the bin.

Salad: Lettuce lasts longer than meat, fish, and dairy—typically seven days—but there are some easy ways to tell if it's time to dump it. Namely, if you notice the leaves are slimy or have turned from green to brown, black, or gray, don't take the chance.

Chinese: The "three to four days" rule applies to your Chinese takeout, too—primarily because many of the dishes are made with meat. If your dishes have tofu, you can push it to three to five days.

While these guidelines are handy to have, keep in mind that your senses can tip you off big time, too. If something smells or looks expired, chances are it is. Go with your gut.

Since we're on the subject, here's the verdict on if moldy bread is safe to eat. And this is why you don't want to leave your ice-cream out too long.

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