Safety with Rita
WHAT IS THE SAFEST AMOUNT OF TIME TO KEEP LEFTOVERS IN THE REFRIGERATOR?
Bottom line: No more than five days, depending on the food.
Why? The fridge doesn't get rid of bacteria; it just slows it down. If stored food already has something growing in it (which oftentimes it does), the cool temperatures will slow the rate of bacteria growth, but the longer foods are kept, the more opportunity bacteria have to grow to a level that will make you sick.
This is not a one-size-fits-all rule, however; different foods spoil at different times, since some foods provide more suitable breeding grounds than others.
In general, bacteria love foods rich in protein, making meats and poultry more likely to be contaminated than bread or fruit. While it is safe to eat a four-day-old burger after you've re-cooked it to the proper temperature (165 degrees F [74 C]), you probably wouldn't want to--spoiled food smells bad and has lost its signature flavor.
Fridge Time for Leftovers
Raw Meat--1 to 2 days
Luncheon Meat--3 to 5 days (opened package)
Cooked Meat--3 to 4 days
Gravy and Meat Broth--1 to 2 days
Leftover Pizza--3 to 4 days
Cooked Fish and Shellfish--3 to 4 days
Words of Caution
Store foods that spoil quickly in the back of the fridge; it's coldest there. Never assume that foods stored in the freezer are automatically safe. Freezing stops the growth of bacteria, but it does not kill bacteria already present. Once the food is defrosted, any organisms living inside the food will begin to grow. So thawed food (especially meat and fish) should be cooked/eaten as quickly as unfrozen food.
Sources: Food Safety and Inspection Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Be Safe!
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