Food waste is becoming a bigger and bigger issue, and most of us now are conscious about trying to throw away as little food as possible.
One way of reducing food waste is to store your leftover vegetables and eat them at another time. This can also be better for your health as it means you are eating more home-cooked food.
It does bring with it its own problems, however. Without a best-before date printed on the label, it can be difficult to know how long you can store your leftover cooked vegetables before they are no longer safe to eat.
When stored properly in an airtight container, cooked vegetables should last 3-7 days in the fridge. Vegetables with a high water content will lose their quality faster than vegetables with a low water content. Cooked canned vegetables can be stored for a slightly longer period of 7-10 days.
I recommend using an airtight container, like this one from Amazon, for both fridge and freezer storage.
Please keep reading to learn more about how long-cooked vegetables last, how to store them properly, and how to tell when they’ve gone bad.
How Long Can Cooked Vegetables Stay in the Fridge?
You can store leftover cooked vegetables in the fridge for 3-7 days (7-10 days for canned cooked vegetables). The most important thing to remember about the length of time it takes vegetables to go bad is that you are fighting against bacteria growth.
Bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli can grow surprisingly quickly and can make you very ill. This is less of a concern with vegetables than it is with other foods, such as meat and eggs, but you still need to be mindful.
Cooked vegetables have a lot more moisture than they did when they were fresh, and bacteria love moisture. So you can’t store your cooked vegetables for as long as fresh ones.
This is also why vegetables with a high water content, such as broccoli, eggplant, and tomatoes, don’t last as long as vegetables with a low water content, such as bananas, spinach, and potatoes.
Should Cooked Vegetables Be Stored in the Fridge?
You should always store your cooked vegetables in the fridge. Bacteria don’t just love moisture; they also love warmth. Your fridge should be kept at 40oF or below because, under this temperature, bacteria are much slower to grow. This will help your leftovers last longer before they go bad.
Can Cooked Vegetables Be Stored at Room Temperature?
You should never store your cooked vegetables at room temperature. The average room temperature in a home is between 68-76oF, and this is right in the middle of the “danger zone” (40-140oF), where bacteria thrive. Your cooked vegetables should never be kept at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, and if the temperature is above 90oF, they shouldn’t be kept out for longer than an hour.
How to Store Cooked Vegetables in the Fridge
It is a common misconception that you need to wait for your food to cool completely before putting it in the fridge. This isn’t true. Your leftovers can safely be placed in your fridge while they are still warm.
Remember that bacteria start to grow the second your cooked vegetables are left at room temperature, so the sooner you can get them in the fridge, the better.
The only reason you should be waiting for your food to cool a little is if there is a lot of it and it is piping hot, as this could raise your fridge’s temperature. Even in this case, however, you only really need to wait until it has stopped steaming.
Within 2 hours (or 1 hour if it is above 90oF where you are), put your leftover vegetables into an airtight sealable container. Don’t cheap out when it comes to your health and food safety. Here are the containers I recommend that can be purchased on Amazon. They are guaranteed to be airtight and have locking tabs to remove the guesswork.
Whatever you do, please don’t put your cooked vegetables straight into the fridge in the pan they are cooked in, for a few reasons. They aren’t designed to be sealed for storage, so they can let more bacteria in. If they are made of aluminum or copper, chemicals can leach into your food over time, and if the food is salty or acidic, it could ruin your pans.
Can You Freeze Cooked Vegetables
You can freeze cooked vegetables. It is the best way to store them if you do not plan to eat them within the next week. Cooked vegetables will last up to 9 months in the freezer but are best if used within 3 months.
The best way to reheat frozen vegetables is by sautéing them, but microwaving is perfectly fine as well.
Do Not Store Vegetables With Fruits
Some fruits, such as apples, kiwifruit, and peaches, give off ethylene gas. This can promote ripening in nearby fruits and vegetables that are sensitive to ethylene, such as broccoli, eggplant, and sweet pea. So if you store ethylene-producing fruits right next to ethylene-sensitive vegetables, this will make them ripen (and go bad) more quickly.
The list of ethylene-producing fruits and ethylene-sensitive vegetables is pretty long and very difficult to remember, so it is usually safer just to avoid storing fruits next to vegetables. That way, you can be sure that you won’t be causing your vegetables to go bad too quickly.
How Do You Reheat Cooked Vegetables?
Keep in mind the danger zone of 40-140oF. As a rule of thumb, your cooked vegetables need to be stored below 40oF and heated above 140oF. This makes sure that the majority of the bacteria, if there are any, will be killed. In fact, it is safer to heat it higher (to at least 165oF) if you really want to be safe.
Make sure that the food is piping hot throughout. Microwaving, in particular, can leave hot and cold spots throughout the dish, as they do not heat evenly, so make sure to take it out halfway and give it a stir. You should only ever reheat your cooked vegetables once. Heating and reheating multiple times can make it more likely that bacteria will grow.
How to Tell if Cooked Vegetables Have Gone Bad
When you know what to look out for, it can be relatively easy to spot when your cooked vegetables have gone bad. As the bacteria start to break down the molecules in your food, it creates some telltale signs.
If your cooked vegetables have a slimy film, any visible mold, are discolored, have a rancid odor, or there is an obvious change in texture, these are all signs that they have gone bad, and they should be thrown away.
It is important to remember that you can still get ill from food that doesn’t have these signs, so always write on your containers when you put your cooked vegetables in the fridge and throw them away after 7 days, even if they look and smell fine.
Storing your cooked vegetables is a great way of saving money, time, and the environment. However, it is essential to ensure that you store them properly as bacteria can grow on them that could give you food poisoning.
Here is a summary of the guidelines to follow:
- Always keep your cooked vegetables in the fridge in a sealable container.
- Never store them at room temperature, as that is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
- Put them in the refrigerator as soon as possible to make sure that bacteria don’t have a chance to grow, and at most within 2 hours of them being cooked.
- Try not to store vegetables and fruit together.
- Always throw your cooked vegetables away after 7 days and be mindful of the signs that they could have gone bad before eating them.
- Make sure to reheat to a high temperature and that your cooked vegetables are piping hot throughout to be sure that you have killed off any bacteria.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
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Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.