How Long to Keep Leftovers

Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D.
Leftovers in refrigerator

Knowing how long to keep leftovers isn't always cut and dry, but it can save you from eating contaminated food and getting sick. General rules exist to help you determine how long it's safe to hold on to food, and when to toss it.

Leftovers Food Storage Chart

As a general rule, cooked leftovers can be kept in the fridge for 3 to 4 days and stored in the freezer for several months before going bad. Specific examples include:

Type of Food

Refrigerator (35 to 40 degrees)

Freezer (0 degrees)

Cooked meats

3 to 4 days

2 to 6 months

Cooked poultry 3 to 4 days 4 months
Cooked poultry in broth/gravy 3 to 4 days 6 months
Cooked fish/shellfish 2 to 3 days 3 months

Pizza

3 to 4 days

1 to 2 months

Soups and stews

3 to 4 days

2 to 6 months

Cooked stuffing

3 to 4 days

1 month

Chicken nuggets

3 to 4 days

1 to 3 months

Casseroles

3 to 4 days

2 to 6 months

Meat salad with mayonnaise

3 to 5 days Do not freeze
Egg salad with mayonnaise 3 to 5 days Do not freeze
Macaroni salad 3 to 5 days Do not freeze
Sandwiches 2 to 3 days 1 month
Egg casseroles or quiches 3 to 4 days 2 months
Lettuce salad 7 days Do not freeze
Greens 3 to 5 days 8 to 12 months
Cooked vegetables 1 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Gravy/broth 1 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Baked fruit pies 2 to 3 days 6 to 8 months
Pumpkin pie 2 to 3 days 1 to 2 months
Cakes 2 to 4 days 1 to 4 months
Pudding 5 to 6 days Do not freeze
Baked breads 2 to 3 days 2 to 3 months

Meats, Poultry, and Fish

As a general rule, meats, poultry, and fish can be kept in the refrigerator for several days and in the freezer for longer time periods. Use the chart below to help determine how long to safely keep leftover meats.

Type of Food

Refrigerator (35 to 40 degrees)

Freezer (0 degrees)

Fresh hamburger/ground meat

1 to 2 days

3 to 4 months

Fresh poultry

1 to 2 days

9 to 12 months

Fresh beef, veal, lamb, or pork

3 to 5 days

4 to 12 months

Fresh fish

1 to 2 days

3 to 6 months

Canned fish

1 year

Do not freeze

Smoked fish

10 days

4 to 5 weeks

Bacon

7 days

1 month

Luncheon meat

3 to 14 days

1 to 2 months

Hot dogs

7 to 14 days

1 to 2 months

Eggs

The amount of time you can keep eggs depends on whether or not the eggs are cooked. Use the chart below as a guideline.

Type of Food

Refrigerator (35 to 40 degrees)

Freezer (0 degrees)

Fresh eggs with the shell

3 to 5 weeks

Do not freeze eggs in shells; beat whites and yolks together, then freeze up to 12 months

Raw egg yolks

2 to 4 days

Do not freeze

Raw egg whites

2 to 4 days

12 months

Hard-boiled eggs

7 days

Do not freeze

Egg substitutes, opened

3 days

Do not freeze

Egg substitutes, unopened

10 days

12 months

Unshelled cooked eggs

3 to 4 days

2 months

Dairy Foods

Dairy food storage guidelines also vary, and expiration dates come in handy. However, if the food looks or smells sour or has a curdled appearance, it's time to throw it out.

Type of Food

Refrigerator (35 to 40 degrees)

Freezer (0 degrees)

Milk

1 to 5 days beyond sell-by date

3 months (texture may change)

Condensed milk or evaporated milk

7 days

Do not freeze

Yogurt

7 to 10 days

Do not freeze

Cottage cheese

1 week

3 months

Cheese

1 month

4 to 6 months

Cream cheese

2 weeks

Do not freeze

Buttermilk

2 weeks

Do not freeze

Sour cream

2 weeks

Do not freeze

Cream

1 to 5 days beyond sell-by date

Do not freeze

Butter

2 weeks

Do not freeze

Ice cream, opened

Do not store in fridge

2 to 3 weeks

Ice cream, unopened

Do not store in fridge

2 months

Fruits and Vegetables

The length of time you should keep fruits and veggies varies, but if you see discoloration or mold, it's time to throw it out.

Type of Food

Refrigerator (35 to 40 degrees)

Freezer (0 degrees)

Canned fruit

1 year

Do not freeze

Canned fruit, opened

2 to 4 days

Varies

Most fresh fruit

3 to 28 days

9 to 12 months

Dried fruit

6 months

1 year

Most fresh vegetables

2 to 7 days

Varies

Carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, and radishes

14 days

Varies

Canned vegetables, opened

1 to 4 days

2 to 3 months

Bottom Line

The amount of time you should keep leftover foods varies; storing cooked leftovers in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days is a good rule of thumb. If leftovers smell or taste funny, are discolored or slimy, or you see visible mold, throw out the food. When in doubt, throw it out.

How Long to Keep Leftovers