Eating Leftovers When Pregnant: Safety and Risks

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Written by Amy Kaczor RDN

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Whether dining out or eating at home, you may want to keep leftovers to enjoy in the next couple of days. However, is eating leftover foods safe when you are pregnant?

Leftovers are safe to consume during pregnancy as long as they are put in the fridge within two hours of being served. It is also essential that leftovers are reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid eating cold leftovers. 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about eating leftovers when pregnant!

Can Pregnant Women Eat Leftovers? 

Saving leftovers from a good meal can be a great way to reduce food waste and cost, especially since some restaurants serve very large portion sizes. However, there are a few extra precautions you need to take during pregnancy to ensure that your leftovers are safe from potentially dangerous bacteria.

leftover roasted chicken

Whether dining out or eating at home, make sure leftovers are placed in the fridge within two hours of the meal being served (source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]). If you will not be able to get home to refrigerate the leftovers within two hours of when the food was served, it is best to discard it.

Additionally, if the temperature outside is very hot (specifically 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), that two-hour window shortens to just one hour (source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). In other words, in hot weather conditions, you must refrigerate your leftovers within one hour of serving, which can be tricky when dining out at a restaurant. 

Any food left out longer than these limits should be discarded.

Always divide leftovers into shallow, air-tight containers to cool them more quickly in the refrigerator, rather than cooling a large amount of food at once. Label the containers with the date the food was prepared. 

Cold Leftovers During Pregnancy

Remember, leftovers are only safe to eat when they are reheated. Cold leftovers are not safe to consume during pregnancy. Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius), regardless of what types of food the leftovers contain (source: FDA). 

Leftovers can be reheated on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (source: Mayo Clinic). Stir or rotate the leftovers once or twice when reheating to ensure they are a uniform heat throughout. Avoid reheating leftovers in a slow cooker, which does not properly heat and kill the bacteria that may be present in the leftovers. 

Do not simply rely on appearance, color, or texture to indicate if the food is appropriately reheated. It is essential to instead use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. To check the internal temperature of the foods, use a food or meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest parts of the food (for example, the thickest part of a chicken patty).

Then, test the temperature in several places (source: United States Department of Agriculture [USDA]). Make sure to wash and sanitize the thermometer needle before using it on a portion of different food. 

If you are reheating frozen leftovers, thaw them either in the fridge, in cold water (changing the cold water out every 30 minutes to keep it cool), or in the microwave immediately prior to reheating. Avoid thawing frozen foods on the counter or in the sink, as this thawing method allows harmful bacteria to grow (source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics). 

woman eating cold leftover pizza in the fridge

I’ve Eaten Cold Leftovers: Should I Worry? 

If you have recently eaten cold leftovers from the fridge without reheating them, there is no need to panic or worry. However, out of an abundance of caution, there are a few symptoms to look out for.

The exact symptoms, time of onset, and duration of illness vary greatly based on which bacteria is present. However, the typical signs of food-borne illness universally include stomach cramps or an upset stomach, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and fever (source: Centers for Disease Control [CDC]). Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms after eating cold leftovers. 

How Long Should You Keep Leftovers if You’re Pregnant?

It is crucial to keep your leftovers in the fridge for only a short period of time. For example, cooked meat or poultry, chicken nuggets, chicken patties, and pizza can be safely stored in the refrigerator (under 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for 3-4 days (source: FDA). 

If you cannot eat the leftovers within three or four days, move them to the freezer where they will last much longer. Cooked meat and poultry can safely last in the freezer for up to 2-6 months, chicken nuggets and patties can stay for 1-3 months, and pizza for 1-2 months (source: FDA). 

I hope this article has shed some light on the safest way to consume leftovers during your pregnancy!