You may have heard rumors floating around the internet that reheating certain foods like celery and chicken can cause food poisoning and other horrible sicknesses.
If you’ve been microwaving leftovers with reckless abandon your whole life and lived to tell the tale, you can breathe easy — most of the information out there is either incomplete or just plain factually incorrect.
The truth of the matter is that it’s not the reheating of leftovers that matters as much as how you store them. Leaving food out for hours to cool down to room temperature, as many of us were taught to do growing up, is a no-go. The USDA recommends food be stored within two hours of hitting room temperature, and some food — like rice — should be stored even sooner than that.
Here’s what else you need to know:
1. Be Careful With Rice
Surprisingly, rice is one food that might very well make you sick if you’re not cautious. According to the Food Standards Agency in the UK, uncooked rice can contain the spores of a type of bacteria called Bacillus cereus, which is resistant to heat and can survive normal cooking temperatures. Why is this important? If you cook rice and let it stay warm and steaming on the stove, these spores can germinate into a heat-resistant bacteria that can’t be killed even if you reheat it.
Just to be on the safe side, serve rice immediately after it’s cooked. If there are leftovers, stick them in the fridge to cool them ASAP – within an hour is ideal.
2. Be Careful With Potatoes
Because potatoes grow in the ground, they naturally come out with a little dirt on them. One of the reasons it’s easier to get food poisoning from potatoes is because dirt and bacteria can hide in potato eyes and their other nooks and crannies. If you’re serving potatoes with the skin on, make sure you’ve scrubbed them extremely well.
Another thing to be conscious of: cooking potatoes and then leaving them in foil (like when you go camping) can lead to bacteria called Clostridium botulinum (aka the bacteria responsible for botulism). This bacteria likes environments where there’s not too much oxygen, meaning a foil-wrapped tater is the perfect spot to germinate.
3. Debunked! Beets, Celery And Other Foods High In Nitrites
Although there are plenty of websites that caution against the dangers of reheating foods high in nitrites like beets and celery, the fact of the matter is there’s no clear link between naturally arising nitrites and cancer. According to current research, you can reheat your beets safely. Added nitrites (commonly found in processed meats), however, are something we’d all be wise avoid or eat in limited amounts (in general — reheated or not!).
4. Debunked! Eggs
Again, there’s a lot of talk on the internet about how reheating eggs messes with their protein structure and can give you a stomachache. However, there’s no legitimate research to back that up. The FDA does caution against reheating eggs, but only because it’s so easy to get food poisoning when they sit out too long. Think about it – you wouldn’t want to reheat and eat a quiche that’s been out of the fridge all day anyway, would you? Reheating eggs, when stored safely, shouldn’t be a problem.
5. Meat: Keeping It Safe
If you are reheating meat, you need to make sure it cooks evenly and gets to a safe temperature. For chicken, beef, and pork, this is 165° Fahrenheit; test it in a few different places to make sure the entire cut is safe. You’ll want to avoid reheating an entire stuffed turkey or chicken, since the stuffing may not get hot enough to kill bacteria. Cut it apart if you need to! And don’t wait too long to eat your meat leftovers, because after 3-4 days, safety becomes an issue.
The Bottom Line?
If a website makes a health claim but doesn’t back it up with a legitimate source, you should be suspicious. The good news? There’s actually now an add-on you can download for your web browser (if you use Chrome) that helps you sniff out news from unreliable or “fake” news sources, so while you should still be discerning, this B.S. Detector will help do the work for you.
Now go forth and reheat those leftovers!