How long are cookout leftovers safe?

Memorial Day weekend kicks off cookout, barbeque season

DETROIT - Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and the beginning of cookout and barbeque season.

Sometimes we cook up more food that we actually need for our get-togethers. But how long do those leftovers really last? It's probably not as long as you think.

Cookouts are a holiday weekend tradition for many families, and so is debating if leftovers are safe.

"For cookouts and barbeques, when you're thinking about your leftover food, anything that's been sitting out for more than two hours, you probably shouldn't save," said Lindsay Malone, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic.

Malone said you should avoid the food temperature danger zone, which is from 40 to 140 degrees. That's when bacteria begins to grow.

Having a serving strategy is also a smart idea.

"If you're having a large gathering, stick with smaller serving dishes, but have your backup in the fridge to pull out halfway through so that you can keep things at a good, healthy temperature," Malone said.

Picnic favorites, such as pasta and potato salad, have ingredients that can go bad quickly, so you're better off pitching them.

For coleslaw or salad, put the dressing on the side to help keep moisture out, making them less likely to grow bacteria.

When the party's over, be sure to pack up the leftovers properly.

"If you're storing foods, one thing to keep in mind is you want to use shallow containers," Malone said. "You want to bring the food to room temperature before it goes in the refrigerator, and then once it's in the refrigerator, you have a window of about two to three days to eat leftovers."

If you're not sure whether something is still safe to eat, remember the saying, "When in doubt, throw it out." Food poisoning would be a bad way to start the summer.

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