Food Safety

Is It OK to Put Leftovers in the Fridge While Still Warm?

Image Credit: Faith Durand

If you're wondering about the right way to put leftovers in the fridge, you're not alone. This may well be one of the great kitchen debates! Some insist that leftovers need to be kept out of the fridge until they reach room temperature, while others see no problem putting them in the fridge while they're still a bit warm (and maybe this is even the better way).

So, who's right? Is one method safer than the other, or does it even matter?

There are a few different things to consider — namely the food safety of your leftovers and the food safety of the foods in your fridge.

Let's start with the safety of those leftovers. According to Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness, your food has about two hours at room temperature before bacteria can start to grow. Ideally, you want to keep your food at temperatures of 165°F or higher — or get it into the fridge as soon as possible.

Yup, you read that right — as soon as possible.

In fact, Schlunegger advises not only getting leftovers into the fridge and stat, but also getting foods to a safe temperature — 40°F or lower — by storing them in a layer no more than two inches deep. "The smaller the portion size, the faster it will cool," she explains.

But you also need to consider the safety of the other foods that are already in your fridge. If you're putting very hot food (think: soup or hot jam) in your fridge, that can bring the temperature of the fridge up to dangerously warm levels.

Of course, you're probably not putting huge vats of soup in your fridge, right? You can also ameliorate any potential issues by using airtight containers and making sure there's space around the containers so that cool air can circulate freely.

The Right Way to Put Leftovers in the Fridge

Unless you are dealing with large quantities of very hot food, it's best to put away leftovers while they are still fresh, and certainly within that two-hour window.

This post was originally published in 2010 and was a Good Question from our reader, Nina.