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Annabel Karmel
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Go to Guide: Handling Leftovers Safely

Anyone on the weaning journey will appreciate all of the meal planning and prep work that goes into each and every meal (parenting is exhausting isn’t it?!) and none of us want to see a meal we’ve prepared go to waste! But as babies have small tummies and ever-changing appetites, this can leave us wondering what we can do with their leftovers…

In the UK, it’s estimated that 25% of food wasted at home is due to cooking, preparing or serving too much food[1] so knowing how to use leftovers will make all the difference to help you start reducing your own family wastage! However, it’s important to know how to handle leftovers safely, particularly with little ones in the house as babies and young children don’t have the same immune system as us adults.

[1] WRAP, Food Surplus and Waste in the UK – Key Facts, January 2020

Cool Leftovers Quickly

The most important thing to remember when handling leftovers is to cool them quickly!

Regardless of what you have cooked, it’s important to make sure you cool hot foods as quickly as possible, ideally within an hour and a half as you want the food to be cold within 2 hours of cooking.

 

To freeze… or not to freeze?!

The good news is, providing you haven’t already reheated the meal from another day, you can keep your leftovers for another day and freeze almost anything!

Use any leftovers kept in the fridge within 2 days (1 day for rice dishes). Remember that the fridge will slow down the growth of bacteria whilst the freezer acts as a “pause” button on food so if you don’t think you’re going to use your leftovers in this time, pop them in the freezer as soon as possible!

Just make sure that don’t keep leftovers on the side longer than 2 hours!

 

Do you always need to reheat leftovers?

No! Providing you have cooled your leftovers safely and kept them in the fridge, it is absolutely fine to eat your leftovers cold straight from the fridge….

However, if you like your leftovers warm, it’s important that you reheat until piping hot throughout. Don’t be tempted to reheat to a lower temperature to avoid having to wait for the food to cool down. Once heated, allow to cool a bit before giving to your little one!

 

Only Reheat Leftovers Once

Remember that you can only reheat leftovers once!

But… it is safe to freeze the leftovers of a cooked meal that used previously frozen raw meat. It’s important to remember here that you aren’t ‘re-freezing’ the meat as it has been cooked in between.

And remember to always freeze leftovers in baby-friendly portions to make it easier to only use what you need when defrosting, as once you have already reheated your leftovers you won’t be able to reheat again.

 

What about leftover rice?

Rice is a high-risk product so if you’re keeping leftover rice it’s important you know how to handle it safely.

This is because rice contains a spore forming bacteria which can survive the heat of cooking. If rice is left at room temperature for too long, then the bacteria can multiply rapidly and produce toxins; which will not be killed by further heating.

So, how quickly you cool rice after cooking is critical in ensuring that your leftover rice will be safe to use. Always aim to cool as quickly as possible, but always within an hour and a half.  You can help cool rice down quickly by;

  • Stirring regularly

  • Divide into smaller portions, or spread out over a larger surface area (for example, spread rice onto a plate vs a bowl)

  • Using a homemade ‘ice bath’

  • Running under cold water (this is the quickest method to cool rice if you’ve not added anything to it!)

Once your rice has cooled down, either pop it in the fridge and use within 24 hours or pop it in the freezer to use at a later date!

Hopefully this blog has given you some tips to help you use your leftovers confidently and safely, reducing your food wastage. In a world where a third of all food produced globally goes to waste, with the average UK household wasting an equivalent of 8 meals a week[1], anything we can do to reduce our wastage is a win-win all round!

[1] [1] WRAP, Food Surplus and Waste in the UK – Key Facts, January 2020

food safety mumJenna is a fully qualified Environmental Health Practitioner specialising in food safety and public health.

She obtained a first-class Batchelor (BSc) degree in Environmental Health and has since qualified as an Environmental Health Practitioner with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). Over the past 12 years she has worked in both the public and private sector advising businesses on all things food safety and public health.

Since becoming a Mum to her 2-year-old little girl Mia, she understands first-hand how much things change when you have a little one to think about too! She has always been passionate about food safety and her mission as Food Safety Mum is to help give parents confidence when cooking at home or when eating out and about!

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For lots more food safety advice, follow Jenna on Instagram

@Foodsafetymum

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