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How many times can you safely reheat food?

Dividing food into portions for reheating

This guide should only be used for those preparing food for personal consumption. There are strict laws regarding food preparation for businesses and organisations. 

When I went to uni, I had no idea how many times I could reheat things, or which foods I could freeze, or could cook then freeze, or could reheat after refrigerating, or how long I could store them all for. To be honest I’m quite surprised it never went wrong. But I want to clear up any confusion about safely reheating food whether (like I was) you’re a teen moving out for the first time or if you’re an adult and you’re still not quite sure… 

If food is not heated correctly the second time around, you are at risk of food poisoning. But provided you heat it for the right amount of time and at the correct temperature, you should be okay to reheat your food multiple times. That being said, every time you reheat food, the quality may decrease as reheating has been known to alter the consistency or taste of food. In fact, the Food Standards Agency recommend reheating your food just one time.

Imagine reheating your leftover Shepherd’s Pie to find out that it’s got a massive chunk of frozen mince in the middle? Not only is it going to be disgusting but you’re putting yourself at risk of food poisoning. Food needs to be completely cooked and piping hot all the way through in order to kill all the harmful bacteria, making it safe to eat.  

What food can't you reheat?

There aren’t explicitly any foods that you shouldn’t reheat but it is recommended that you’re careful with foods like meat, fish, and rice. Always cook them properly the first time around, cool them at room temperature for no more than 2 hours, store them in a refrigerator, and reheat them properly before eating. 

The NHS recommends eating all leftovers in 2 days but at the absolute most, 4 days. If you think you may store food for longer, freeze it.

Reheating home-cooked meals

In order to make sure that you only reheat meals once, take care to portion your meals appropriately. This means you’ll need to store and reheat less food and helps avoid creating waste. 

Reheating takeaways (because we always order too much)

Takeaways are more tricky. You don't know how the food was prepared or whether the food had been frozen or reheated prior to being served to you. 

If you think you might reheat your food when you buy it, you should ask the business how their food is prepared. This lets you know whether you can safely reheat it. Particular foods like rice carry an extra risk when being reheated so either ask the chef or don’t take the risk.

Reheating meat

Chicken - You can reheat chicken safely regardless of whether it’s on or off the bone. Provided that chicken is cooked the whole way through then it’s safe to eat. Leftover chicken should be consumed within 3 days if refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking or 3 months if frozen.

Beef - You can reheat beef without much issue but it can become dry or tough. It’s advised (where possible) to reheat your beef in some sort of sauce or liquid e.g. a stew or gravy or add a little water. Beef needs to be cooked through and be piping hot before consuming when reheated. Leftovers should be consumed in 3 days if refrigerated or 3 months if frozen and put in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours of cooking.

Pork - Like beef, pork can become tough or dry when reheating so you need to be careful. It should be piping hot throughout when served and should be in the fridge/freezer within 2 hours of cooking. If refrigerated it should be eaten within 3 days or 3 months if frozen. When reheating sausages, it’s recommended that you cut them in half so they don’t become dry on the outside whilst ensuring that they’re cooked the whole way through. 

Seafood - Seafood is a higher risk food when it comes to reheating. You should aim to get it in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking and consume it within 2 days. If you buy prawns, pay attention to whether they are raw or pre-cooked. If raw then ensure that they are piping hot when cooked (pre-cooked ones can be eaten cold). However, if you heat pre-cooked prawns, don’t reheat them again.

Reheating in the oven

The type of food will determine whether it’s best to reheat it in the oven or the microwave. When reheating in the oven, food needs to reach the temperature it was originally cooked at (at least 75 °c).

Foods from the oven should (as always) be piping hot and produce steam. Reheating times will vary for different types of food. 

Reheating in the microwave

Sometimes reheating food in the microwave can cause the food to become dry and alter the texture. However, with regards to safety, just remember the golden rule - it has to be piping hot the whole way through, then it's okay to eat. 

While most food can be reheated more than once, it is better to only reheat food once which is why it’s suggested that you split large portions into smaller ones. Each time you reheat and cool food it is likely that you will alter the foods taste/texture as well as increasing the chances of bacteria growing. 

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