Q & A: How long is it safe to keep and eat leftovers?

Q: “How long is it safe to keep open jars of food or sauce in the fridge? -Michelle Simutis

A: The short answer is 3 to 4 days (this was the answer provided by the Food Safety Working Group for most types of leftovers).

The long answer is, well, a little more unappetizing.

But it’s important stuff.

Quick facts about food safety:

(Note: I’m not getting into meat issues, as this is a vegetarian blog, check those out here)

  • Bacteria that causes food poisoning does not affect the look, smell or taste of the food.
  • Spoilage bacteria – the type that makes food look bad or smell funny – generally does not cause illness.
  • Perishable groceries should be refrigerated with
  • At room temperature, bacteria can double every 20 minutes. This is why it is SO important to refrigerate leftover food quickly.
  • Having a party? Don’t leave the food out for more than two hours. Read the full why and how here.
  • Food poisoning is real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 48 million people get sick every year in the United States. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food borne illness and infection. Many of those at highest risk are very young, very old or have weakened immune systems.

Food “best by” dates guide:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
  • Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.


Sonya Quick

Full-time mom, freelance journalist and dancer. Loves cooking, listening to good music and drinking craft beer.