How to deal with leftover food

Stored properly, you can enjoy your cake for days. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Leftovers come in handy; you do not have to make fresh meals all the time. How you keep the food makes the difference between enjoying your meal or ending up with food poisoning.

According to Bena Okiria, there are foods that are categorized as high risk because they breed bacteria easily or their nutrients are volatile, a public health nutritionist. These should be stored within two hours of preparation but should be cooled before storage in the fridge.

If not, the hot food can raise the temperature in the fridge creating a friendly environment for bacteria and other microbes that can lead to food poisoning.

These have a tendency of hardening when they stay even just for two hours, says Okiria.
Foods such as matooke, posho and millet become hard when exposed to air because the sugars in them are being converted to another state. If such foods are to be eaten as leftovers, they should be kept warm throughout.

There are some foods that are not safe to eat as leftovers even just the next day.
Cooked potatoes once left to cool at room temperature will develop a bacterium that causes botulism, even when you think you wrapped them in a tight foil, not even reheating them saves the situation. It, is therefore, important, that you throw away cooked potatoes. You do not have to risk food poisoning by trying them the next day.

In the case of an apple, for example. Okiria says, “If you cut it and leave it for about 15 minutes, its colour will have turned brown. This means that it has started losing some of the nutrients. Fruits are perishable and their nutrients are very volatile. Once you have eaten or used part of the fruit, ensure to finish the rest of it in a few hours’ time.”

Storage for leftover food is very important according to Lydia Aisu Pedun, a dietitian.
Leftovers can be kept for a maximum of three to four days in the fridge and three months in the freezer but it is important to remember that the longer the food stays, the more it will change colour, taste and flavour.

Warm food can be left to cool first then put in airtight containers before being put in the fridge.

Aisu says, “The leftover foods to be frozen should be placed in a watertight package and tightly covered. This will help retain the moisture of the food, keep out bacteria and prevent them from picking up odours from other food in the refrigerator.”

If the container is not tight enough, water can get into the food and bacteria from the surrounding environment can enter the packaging bag.

Remember to keep your refrigerator below four degrees and do not overload it or there will not be enough cool air that is suitable for keeping the leftover food safe.

The tins or wrapping material should be thin enough to allow proper circulation of the cold air.

Aisu says, “The layer should not be more than five centimetres thick or there is a possibility that some microbes might survive because the temperature at certain points in the tin is not cold enough.”

Serving leftovers
Frozen leftovers can be reheated in a saucepan, microwave, or oven. Once leftovers are out of the fridge, they should be heated at a temperature of 75-80 degrees Celsius for five minutes in a microwave.

If you do not have a microwave, you can boil such food in water. When the water boils, then you are sure it is above 80 degrees Celsius. You can also re-steam the food to ensure you have boiled it to the right temperature that can kill bacteria.

If you are not able to eat all your leftover food, you can also use it as an ingredient in other recipes. Take note, however, that when you have doubt about the safety of your leftover food, tasting it is not safe. It is, therefore, recommended that you throw it away.