It’s a dilemma most people have encountered, but can never get a straight answer to online: Which leftovers are and aren’t safe to reheat?
Rice has made headlines in recent weeks TikTok users claimed it gave them severe food poisoning – but most Chinese food lovers reheat it for days.
Kim Lindsay, an accredited practicing dietitian in Australia, told DailyMail.com that she has four foods that are pretty risky to reheat — and four that are actually fine, contrary to popular belief.
For example, she says fish is completely safe to heat, despite the circulating myths. However, your co-workers may not be happy if you start cooking salmon in the microwave.
Not safe: eggs
The FDA recommends leaving egg dishes out for no more than two hours, or one hour in hot weather
They seem to last forever — up to six weeks — in the fridge before they’re cooked. But if you have leftover eggs from yesterday’s breakfast, you’re more at risk.
You can put them in the microwave or oven just fine. The problem is when they stay put.
Eggs can contain the bacteria salmonella, which causes food poisoning, and leaving them out for long periods of time gives bacteria more time to multiply.
Lindsay says eggs stored at temperatures between 40 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit are the “danger zone.”
“Patogens can grow faster when they’re at that temperature,” she said. “If there are more pathogens and more harmful bacteria in a food, there is an increased risk of food poisoning when we eat it,” she said.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends never leaving eggs or dishes containing eggs out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, or one hour in hot weather.
In addition, the agency advises using leftover egg dishes within three to four days. However, be careful with the microwave.
“The tricky thing about the microwave is that it can be a little uneven when you’re heating something up. Sometimes it’s hot at the edges and cold in the middle or vice versa,” Ms Lindsay said.
She recommends mixing the dish halfway through the microwave and turning the container over to make sure the heat is distributed evenly.
“If you want to use a recipe that doesn’t overcook eggs, you’re buying pasteurized eggs, which have been heat-treated to kill any pathogenic microorganisms (and) preserve the nutrition,” food safety expert Toby Amidor told DailyMail.com.
Not safe: rice
Bacillus cereus, a bacteria found in rice, is heat resistant, meaning it can still form when rice is reheated
A staple of day-old Chinese food, leftover rice is usually considered completely harmless. However, it has been making waves TikTok after users claimed it gave them food poisoning.
This is due to having cooked rice Bacillus cereusa spore-forming bacteria typically found in soil and vegetables.
It is found in many raw and unprocessed foods, including potatoes, peas, beans and certain spices.
“Rice is a big risk,” Ms Lindsay said. “Those spores are heat resistant, so even if you heat them, they can still cause harmful pathogens.”
Disease symptoms of Bacillus cereus include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
“Many people pre-rinse rice to get rid of the bacteria,” Ms Amidor said.
Rice isn’t the only grain that can hide bacteria. Any grain carries a similar risk if not properly stored and reheated.
Not safe: Spinach
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach contain nitrates, which can be converted to carcinogenic properties
Reheating spinach may be directly linked to an increased risk of cancer.
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach contain compounds called nitrates.
When nitrates are heated, they can break down into other compounds that increase cancer risk.
By themselves, nitrates are harmless. However, bacteria already living in the mouth and enzymes in the body can convert them into nitrites and then into nitrosamines. Have these carcinogenic traits, which can be cancerous.
A study estimated that humans get about 80 percent of their dietary nitrates from vegetables.
Nitrates are also found in fennel, radishes, carrots, bok choy and turnips.
In addition, if spinach is not heated properly, the listeria bacteria can still live on it.
This can cause listeriosis, a serious infection that causes fever, flu-like symptoms, headache, stiff neck, confusion and even seizures.
In general, ready-to-eat salads and store-bought vegetables carry the risk of listeria, Ms Lindsay said.
Not safe: potatoes
Potatoes left at room temperature or warmed in foil for too long can increase the risk of botulism
As with rice, the problem with potatoes is not the heat itself, but leaving them out for too long.
Leaving them at room temperature for more than two hours puts you in the ‘danger zone’, which can lead to the growth of Clostridium botulinum.
This causes botulism, a condition in which toxins attack the nerves of the body and can cause breathing difficulties.
It results in symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. It is fatal in one in ten cases.
There is also an increased risk of botulism with baked potatoes cooked in foil.
“The bacteria coming out of the soil would be on the potato, and then the aluminum cuts off the oxygen and it can grow,” Ms Amidor said.
Ms Lindsay says part of the risk mashed potatoes pose is their perishable ingredients such as milk, butter and cream.
“Make sure you keep it out for less than two hours and reheat it until it’s steaming and you keep it in the refrigerator to reduce the risk of food poisoning, especially if you have those perishable ingredients like butter and milk or cream,” she said.
As long as they are heated properly, most types of fish can be safely reheated in the microwave, on the stove, or in the oven.
Despite its negative reputation for leaving an unpleasant odor in the office microwave, fish has little risk of reheating it the next day.
“Fish is perfectly safe to reheat,” Lindsay said.
The FDA states that fresh seafood caught and then immediately frozen can be safely reheated.
As with rice and eggs, don’t keep it at room temperature for more than two hours at a time.
While you can microwave it and not get sick, heating it this way can dry it out and ruin the texture.
Cooking it in the oven or on the stove will prevent it from drying out.
The FDA recommends refrigerating cooked fish for no more than three to four days and making sure it’s cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ms. Amidor suggested covering fish while reheating to ensure it reaches the ideal temperature.
Safe: Deli Meat
The risk of listeria is lower with deli meat that has been reheated
Deli meats have long been a source of panic because of listeria warnings.
However, Ms Lindsay said there is little cause for alarm.
“If that’s cooked and heated, it’s perfectly safe,” she said.
Cooking the meat helps kill the listeria, Ms Amidor said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends heating meats and cheeses to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill listeria.
The condition is caused by a bacterial infection that a person contracts after eating contaminated food.
In addition, much of the risk is in people who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or over the age of 65.
“Someone with a good immune system is at fairly low risk,” Ms Amidor said.
Heating milk can destroy bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli
While you probably drink milk cold, you may occasionally need to warm it up for a recipe.
It’s unusual, but not unsafe.
‘Because it is a perishable product, it probably receives a little more attention, such as the best before date on milk and cream. And so you want to make sure you stick to that,’ Mrs. Lindsay said.
However, Ms Lindsay said heating on high heat can kill forms of bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and E. coli.
“It’s going to have that high heat that destroys those bacteria and then it should be safe to consume.”
However, breast milk and formula may have a greater risk of eliminating nutrients.
“If you’re going to heat that stuff up and down all the time, you might be destroying some of the vitamins,” Ms Amidor said.
Reheating chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit lowers the risk of salmonella
While it will likely have better texture and flavor on the stovetop or in the oven, chicken is still safe to reheat in the microwave.
The key turns it every two minutes until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
This lowers the risk of salmonella.
As long as it’s left out for no more than two hours, according to FDA guidelines, Ms Lindsay said chicken poses few safety concerns.
The FDA also recommends refrigerating cooked chicken for no more than one to two days.
For roast chicken, Mrs. Amidor suggested heating them in the oven to keep the breadcrumbs crispy.