Whether you’re a fan of thrifty batch cooking, or you just have eyes a bit bigger than your stomach, knowing how to refrigerate and freeze leftovers without ruining the taste or making anyone sick is a really useful skill to master.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as ladling your food from the pan and popping it straight in the fridge or freezer, but with a few basic rules of thumb, it can soon become second nature.

Cooling time

Firstly, it’s essential to make sure that whatever you want to save has cooled down completely before it goes in the fridge or freezer. This is because hot food can raise the temperature of your coldbox, and risk defrosting other items.

This links into the second important point, which is to never refreeze anything that has begun to defrost. Refreezing raises the potential risk of food poisoning, so if you’re uncertain, avoid!


Make sure that food is well wrapped and clearly labelled, to avoid frustration later on when you come to defrost. There’s little more annoying than not getting the meal you’d been looking forward to.

Using different colours to mark cooked and uncooked food can be very useful, as it helps keep the two categories separate as well as telling you what you have. You could also keep a list of what is currently in the fridge or the freezer, to help you plan your meals even more effectively.

It’s also important to store meat correctly, as too little protection can lead to freezer burn, which makes meat tough and unpleasant.

Hygiene rules

The most important thing is to never store cooked meat with raw, either in the fridge or the freezer. This raises the risk of cross-contamination, and can lead to dangerous bacterial infections. Vegetables and bread should also be kept separate from things like meat, eggs and dairy products for the same reason.

It’s also important to keep the food containers tightly sealed, to further limit the possibility of any cross contamination, or just unpleasant and messy leaks.

By the same token, when reheating food, ensure that it is piping hot all the way through before serving, as this will destroy any bacteria that remain. A sign food is hot enough to eat is plenty of steam coming off it, and bubbling in any sauce or liquid involved. Make sure to stir everything thoroughly to allow the heat to permeate all the way through.

Microwaves are excellent for reheating. However, make sure to pause occasionally and give the food a quick stir, to make sure that it’s warmed through and avoid superheated patches.

Timing matters

It’s important to choose your storage based on how long you would like to keep the food. Leftovers placed in the fridge should be eaten the next day, so this is the best option for small amounts that will do for tomorrow’s dinner.

Frozen leftovers will be safe pretty much indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean the quality of the food won’t deteriorate, so it’s best to aim to eat them within three months.

© Axonn 2015