How long will cookout leftovers last?

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Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer – and the start of cookout and barbeque season. But when we’re faced with a table full of leftovers when the guests go home, it can be tough to know what to keep and what to pitch.

According to Lindsay Malone, RD, of Cleveland Clinic, it’s best to start by taking a look at the clock when you put the food out.

“For cookouts and barbeques, when you’re thinking about your leftover food, anything that’s been sitting out for more than two hours, you probably shouldn’t save,” she said, 

Malone said it’s important to avoid letting foods get into what’s known as the ‘temperature danger zone’ – which ranges from 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

When food has been sitting out in that temperature range, it will begin to grow bacteria, and there’s a higher likelihood of getting sick from eating it.

There are some food items that are likely able to be saved – such as snacks like nuts or pretzels.  

If you have a vegetable tray, Malone said you can probably save most of it.

Items which cannot be saved include pasta salad and potato salad – Malone said those items are more likely to grow bacteria, so we’re better off pitching them.

Sometimes, she said employing a serving-strategy is useful.

“If you’re having a large gathering, stick with smaller serving dishes, but have your backup in the fridge to pull out half way through, so that you can keep things at a good, healthy temperature,” said Malone.

Likewise, if you are serving things such as cole slaw, or salads with dressings, you can put the dressing on the side, and let people decide how much they want to use. Malone said this will help keep moisture out of the dishes, because moisture is where bacteria likes to grow.

And when the party is over, be mindful not only of what you can save, but how you pack it up.

“If you’re storing foods, you want to use shallow containers, and you want to bring the food to room temperature before it goes in the refrigerator,” said Malone. “Once it’s in the refrigerator, you have a window of about 2-3 days to eat leftovers.” 

Malone said if you’re not sure if something is still good to eat – use your senses. Inspect it for visible mold, and smell it to see if it smells right – if in doubt, throw it out.

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