☰ menu   

The Ultimate Guide to Leftovers

If the party is winding down and you’ve still got heaps of food, it’s time to pack it in, er, up. Whether you divide your spoils or keep it all to yourself is up to you, but here’s how to do leftovers right.  


The days before the party are the ideal time to clean the fridge. Free up space and bulk up your container collection by finishing half-empty foods and tossing what’s past its prime.  


Take stock of your storage options to figure out what you need. We like plastic deli containers—they’re reusable, stackable, and ready for both the microwave and the freezer. Plus,  interchangeable lids means no scrambling to match pairs, and they’re available in bulk online. Throw in some painter’s tape (easy to remove!) and permanent markers for easy labeling, too. 

Play it safe 

Aim to get food into the fridge or freezer within two hours of it being cooked. Bacteria thrive between 40 and 140°F (what the USDA calls “the danger zone”); take your time enjoying your spread, but don’t let it sit for too long. 


Whether you’re packing bags for guests or stacking tubs in your fridge, keep larger, heavier containers at the bottom so delicate leftovers don’t get squashed. (If you can, wait until foods are cool before you stack; keeping the warmth together will slow the cooling process.)  

Keep track 

In the fridge, leftovers will keep for three to five days. Use the aforementioned painter’s tape and markers to label and date each storage container. Looking to keep the feast going for longer? Opt for the freezer, where leftovers can last for up to four months. (But be advised: frozen food can lose flavor and texture over time.) 

Beat the burn 

Avoid freezer burn by minimizing the air in your packaging. Wrap meat tightly in plastic wrap before placing in containers or freezer bags (squeeze the air out of those, too, or bust out the vacuum sealer). For side dishes, choose the correct container size; you want to fill it as much as possible to reduce air gaps.

Polina Chesnakova

Polina Chesnkova is a Seattle-based food writer, cooking class instructor, and the author of Hot Cheese: Over 50 Gooey, Oozy, Melty Recipes.

Bettina Makalintal

Bettina Makalintal is culture's former editorial assistant. With a background in the food industry and as a bike mechanic, she can often be found biking in search of new donut shops.

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Leftovers”

  1. xoso888 says:

    Do you have any video of that? I’d want to find out more details.

    1. Madeline Upson says:

      We don’t have a video, sadly. Hopefully the picture helps!

Leave a Reply