It's so easy to just stick leftovers in the microwave and not give them a second thought – but is it safe? While reheating food is a great way to cut back on waste, it’s not suitable for every piece of food. Should you reheat meat and seafood? What about rice and pasta?
To help break the confusion we’ve listed the most important principles for reheating food and answered some common questions on what you can, and can’t, reheat safely.
5 golden rules of reheating food
- Food must be completely cool before it goes in the fridge or freezer. Leaving it to cool naturally can take a long time and encourage bacteria so transfer the food to a clean dish once cooked to give it a helping hand.
- Store all leftovers in sealed containers. This helps to stop your food from being exposed to other sources of bacteria and keeps things safe and hygienic in your fridge or freezer.
- Reheat all food within 24-48 hours. This is the maximum time you should allow and will vary between different foods. For example, the NHS advises waiting no more than 24 hours when reheating rice to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
- Make sure food is piping hot right before eating. Check it’s thoroughly reheated right at the centre and don’t eat it if you’re unsure.
- Only reheat foods once. Reheating food multiple times increases the risk of bacteria growth and food poisoning so only reheat the amount of food you’re planning to eat.
Reheating food FAQs
Can you reheat prawns?
Yes. Although, these critters and other kinds of seafood are notorious for their food poisoning potential so take particular care to get them in the fridge as soon as they are cooled, not store them for too long, and heat them until they’re piping hot before you consume. Aim for at least 74 degrees centigrade to kill off any bacteria and if it smells fishy then err on the side of caution.
Can you reheat meat?
Yes. As long and it hasn’t been frozen, defrosted and refrozen. There are lots of reported cases of food poisoning due to different types of meat each year and chicken is especially dangerous so it needs to be heated thoroughly and not left at the back of the fridge for too long.
Can you reheat pasta?
Yes. Follow the usual rules when reheating pasta to make sure it’s nice and hot before eating. If there is meat, seafood or any other riskier elements mixed in your pasta then you’ll need to take extra care with those. The same applies for pastas made with oil, cream, or cheese-based sauces. Take extra care and reheat to a very high temperature. You may want to add a little fresh sauce during the reheating process.
Can you reheat cooked cheese?
Yes. It’s probably best to avoid the microwave though, as this may not cook the food thoroughly enough. Instead, heat food containing cooked cheese to a high temperature using the oven or hob. This covers foods such as leftover pizza or pasta with cheese-based sauces, like carbonara.
Can you reheat rice?
Yes. But you need to be very careful because of bacterium called Bacillus cereus which can survive on rice even after cooking. The risk of this bacteria growing increase the longer rice is left to stand at room temperature so the trick to reheating rice is too cool it as quickly as possible, ideally within 1 hour of cooking. You should never reheat rice more than once.
While you should always try to cook only the amount of food you need to eat, you can safely reheat most foods if you follow these basic safety principles. Cooling leftovers and storing them in the fridge or freezer prior to reheating can be a handy way to avoid waste but it’s important that you never eat food that looks, smells or tastes funny.
To reheat food safely, follow these key steps:
- Cool food thoroughly and quickly before refrigerating or freezing.
- Store leftovers in a sealed container.
- Eat reheated food within 24-48 hours.
- Reheat food until the dish is hot right the way through to kill any lurking bacteria.
- Take extra care when reheating high-risk foods like rice, seafood, and meat.