Exactly How Long to Store Leftovers Before Tossing Them

Hold up! Before you dig into that few-days-old pizza, it's important to know how long leftovers can last in the fridge (or freezer). Keep this leftovers chart handy so you'll know if it's still safe to eat.

When it comes to leftovers, you might automatically think about the big holiday feasts that leave loads of leftover turkey and mashed potatoes. But as someone that lives alone and loves to cook and bake, I almost always have plenty of leftovers. I try to freeze any abundant leftovers to avoid food waste, but it's easy to lose track of just how long that leftover pizza has been stashed in the back of the fridge. With the help of our Test Kitchen (which uses the USDA as a resource), I tracked down the most common foods that we end up with leftovers. Of course, you'll want to make sure you follow proper food safety measures in packaging and storing leftovers to avoid any risk of food poisoning.

leftover food in plastic containers inside refrigerator
Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock

How Long to Store Leftovers

Use this leftover food chart as a guide on how long you can continue eating foods after they've been opened or prepared. If you have food that's unopened, go ahead and follow the expiration date for the "use by" or "freeze by" dates. When in doubt, take the safer route by tossing it.

Type of Food Fridge Freezer
Bacon, ham, hot dogs, and cooked sausage (links and patties) 1 week 1 month
Bread 3 to 5 days 1 to 3 months
Butter 1 to 2 months 6 to 9 months
Cake 1 week 6 months
Cheese, hard (i.e. cheddar, swiss, Parmesan) 3 to 4 weeks 6 months
Cheese, soft (brie, goat) 1 to 2 weeks 6 months
Chicken nuggets or patties 3 to 4 days 1 to 3 months
Fried chicken 3 to 4 days 4 months
Rotisserie chicken 3 to 4 days 4 months
Deli meat 3 to 5 days 1 month
Egg casseroles 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Eggs, hard-boiled in shells 1 week not recommended
Egg substitutes, liquid 3 days not recommended
Fruit, sliced 3 to 4 days 3 months
Mashed potatoes 3 to 4 days 1 to 2 months
Meat or poultry, cooked 3 to 4 days 2 to 6 months
Milk use-by date 3 months
Pancakes and waffles not recommended 2 months
Pasta 3 to 5 days 1 to 2 months
Pies, fruit or nut 3 to 4 days up to 4 months
Pies, custard or chiffon 3 to 4 days not recommended
Pizza 3 to 4 days 1 to 2 months
Quiche 3 to 5 days 2 to 3 months
Quinoa 1 week 6 to 12 months
Rice 4 to 6 days 6 months
Salad (chicken, egg, ham, tuna, and macaroni) 3 to 4 days not recommended
Soup 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Tofu 1 week 5 months
Vegetables 3 to 4 days 1 to 2 months

Looking for a more specific food to find out how long the leftovers will last? Try USDA's FoodKeeper App where you can search for products. You can also use our Test Kitchen's guide for how to stock and store your groceries.

Leftover Takeout and Delivered Foods

So you ordered too much takeout or have leftovers from a holiday meal. It's nice having lunch for tomorrow covered, but it's also important to make sure you're storing these perishable foods safely to avoid any illness. Pop those leftovers in the fridge within 2 hours to enjoy for up to 4 days. If it was left out longer than 2 hours (or an hour in a room that's 90°F or above), you'll need to throw it away.

Storing and Reheating Leftovers

You can't always see, taste, or smell the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Use a food thermometer ($15, Target) to reheat leftovers to 165°F, which is a high enough temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. If your leftovers are frozen, be sure to thaw gradually in the refrigerator and not at room temperature (breads and sweets are OK to thaw on the counter).

It's not just the leftovers you'll need to watch out for safe consumption and/or the best quality. Make sure you do regular checks of your pantry and fridge for that too-old salad dressing, nut butter, and more.

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