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Re-Heating Food Safely

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

What is the safest and best way to re-heat food? Just to explain, I live alone and it's makes more sense to cook enough for two and then freeze the other serving to heat and eat later.

For example, I made a chicken casserole with mashed pototaes tonight. I have placed one portion into a freezer safe tupperware container and have placed it in the freezer. What is the best way to cook this in future?

It might be a simple question to most of you, but I don't want to poison myself!

post #2 of 13
The safety issue comes in more for storage and thawing than reheating. What you don't want to do is leave food out at room temperature for hours, or in the fridge for days and days. Storing it properly goes a long way to keeping it safe.

If you're freezing portions right away, you're doing the right thing. When it comes time to reheat them, and you want to thaw them first, it's safest to do it in the fridge over a day, rather than leave them out on the counter for a few hours. But a lot of items can be reheated directly from the freezer, they just take longer.

When I want to put an item in the microwave to heat, I'll usually transfer it out of the plastic container into a glass or ceramic dish, and cover it with microwave-safe plastic wrap. I don't feel comfortable heating plastic, or rather heating food in plastic, which heats the plastic, too.

To heat something in the oven or toaster oven, I'll transfer it to an ovenproof dish (glass, ceramic, or metal), cover with foil, and heat.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Thanks, I really appreciate the reply.

By saying "freexing portions straight away" I am assuming that you mean after they have cooled to room temperature? Also, how long to you zap the food in the microwave to ensure that it is cooked thouroghly.

And lastly, are there any foods that really shouldn't be frozen and re-heated?

Many thanks.
post #4 of 13
Yes, the reheating isn't really a safety issue because it happens over a few minutes. There's not enough time to create a bacteriological problem assuming one wasn't already present.

Rather, assess the food before reheating. how old is it? Check smells, textures and appearance. If any of those are off, toss it. George Carlin used to say that leftovers made you fell good twice. Once when you saved them and thought you were saving money. AGain when you threw them out and thought you were saving your life.

Some foods are better as leftovers; stews and soups tend to improve. Others tend to degrade; rice dries out, pasta clumps, salads wilt and so on.

While the freezer is good for longer term storage, it exacts a toll many foods. The flavor balances shift often becoming weaker, a few do become stronger, garlic and spicy hotness. It might be that those flavors are less affected and only seem stronger in comparison to the other flavors that have faded.

Textures also change. Lots of food will weep moisture when thawed.

Foods best for freezing tend to be high moisture content foods. Your casserole is a good candidate for freezing. However, you wouldn't want to freeze it in tupperware for more than a few days. The airspace creates the conditions for freezer burn. For longer storage, you could initially freeze it in the tupperware, then remoev it from the tupperware, wrap it in plastic wrap/foil or both.

Thawing is best done over a day or two in the fridge. This eliminates most food safety issues and I think the food comes out of the freeze in better shape. I prefer this to reheating from frozen as you get more control over the reheat which prevents burns, scorches or dried out ends.

Many prefab foods can be microwaved from frozen. Some of your own leftovers can be done this way. Soup is a no brainer for this technique. Stir it as frequently to help it come back evenly.

But say a stew, it would have meat and vegetables sticking out that could get dried out or over heated. Or meat could render some more fat and overheat a spot on the tupperware leading to a bubbled container. Same with a plastic bowl. Sugars, tomatoes and greasy foods should be reheated in a glass or stoneware container. Those foods can get hot enough to burn themselves or melt plastic.

There is a bit of an art to reheating and there is no one universal technique. Microwave is good for high moisture foods, generally. Do only one normal plate at a time. Too much food won't heat evenly and leads to problems. Most food benefits from a sprinkle of water. This helps prevent it from drying out. Cover the food. There are special plastic vented domes that work pretty well. Get a large one that still fits in your microwave. Plastic wrap is good too though there is some concern over the plasticizers migrating to the food. Put the food in a deep bowl so the plastic doesn't touch the food and you're fine. Poke some vent holes in the wrap. Don't use full power. Most modern microwaves have a reheat setting that works pretty well. Be careful, the containers can get hot.

Rotate the food during reheating if you don't have an automatic carousel. Stir foods that can be stirred.

But sauces rarely reheat well in the microwave. So gravy from thanksgiving, I usually reheat in small amounts on the stove.

You won't poison yourself reheating. That's more of a storage issue or initial cool down problem.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 13
On the other hand, I have 5 fingers . . George Carlin.

Oh what I meant to say is that when reheating food, if the original pre-frozen quality was at all questionable, thoroughly heating kills any bacteria, in the microwave or whatever. But you have to be careful that you are thoroughly cooking it, and that there are no cool spots that didn't get cooked.
post #6 of 13
when you cook the food down and chill it down, put it in to serving size portions and chill down quickly then freeze , dont chill it down in large batches then freeze , the bacteria has a bigger chance of building up in large amounts, so by making it smaller it cools down quicker and avoids bacteria building up so quickly. when you reheat make sure its really hot all the way through
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
post #7 of 13
looks like tessa covered it already, but this wording made me a little nervous:
So, to reiterate:
It sounds like you are cooling your food down at room temperature. I think that if you are worried about getting sick, you should make sure that you are cooling it in your refrigerator, not out on the counter.
The Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) says that cooked foods need to be cooled from 135 F - 70 F in two hours, then you have four more hours to get the temperature down to 41 F. (57 C - 21 C, then down to 5 C)
I, myself, don't check cooling temperatures when cooking at home, I just put that CDC thing in there so you get the general idea. :)

EDIT:suzanne covered it too. sorry for being redundant.
post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Some great advice there, many thanks.

The cooling thing concerns me. I always thought that it was a general rule never to placve hot food straight into the refrigerator!!?
post #9 of 13
That's for the sake of the fridge. Something to do with condensation and frost. I think these days with frost free refrigerators you don't have that problem anymore.
post #10 of 13
Good advice in the post.

Most of the stuff we freeze for meals at a later date is done by packaging things in food-saver bags. We do go straight from pot to bag but then I will ice-bath or at the least bring the temp down rapidly in a cool water bath. It does make a difference in how the product freezes since it puts less strain on the appliance and the surrounding food.

If we don't use the food saver method to freeze, the food will sit for the duration of the meal at room temp (15-20 minutes) and then into the cold food section first lid off. This takes the edge off the food for the same reasons as I stated above but since the bags aren't used the food can't be thoroughly sealed and could become water logged.

Once the food has thoroughly cooled, you can place the lid o it and keep in the cold foods section or place in the freezer. In an observation of our own refrigerator, if you don't disturb the food and keep it in the back of the box as well as minimize the frequency you open the door, most food will go 4-5 days before I start to consider quality. the freezer is a great deal longer though.

We also thaw in the cold foods section and every so often in a water bath if time became an issue.
As far as you main question about reheating safely...... As quickly as possible with out compromising the quality of the food. Sauces on the stove top over med high heat stirring frequently and solids in an oven. Microwave is fine but we use the convection. Good rule to follow either way is covered tightly in the beginning and then if the food requires browning, remove the covering to allow this to take place. The key to remember is to get the food out of the danger zone, 45-140 as quickly as possible in both cooling and reheating. Although some 20+ years ago I adopted a 40-145 range just to be certain. :cool:

Hope this helps.
post #11 of 13



as previously mentioned there are a number of critical stages in the 'simple' operation that you are doing.

1. cooking, 2. cooling. 3. freeze storage 4. defrosting, 5. reheating.

1. ensure chicken is cooked through to centre
2. cool as quickly as possible - air circulation is useful and metal is a better conductor of heat that plastic
3. freezing - one portion shouldn't be too much of a problem - make as flat as possible for cold penetration
4. defrost thoroughly - the less the mass the quicker this will be
5. re-heating most critical - ensure bubbling throughout and heat has sufficiently penetrated the chicken pieces.

In short - when reheating overdo it for safety.

There was an interesting leaflet produced by the AARP American Association of Retired Persons giving advice on food safety and it covered these points.

Good idea to do more than enough for one sitting. Just ensure it's heated thoroughly and all will be well.
post #12 of 13
Gotta disagree. If you cooked and cooled it properly there's no safety worry. You'll only ruin it for eating when you over-reheat it.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #13 of 13
i wouldnt freeze cooked egg products, like omelettes, etc, if your going to freeze things like pasta, potatoe etc then make sure you have sauce over it, it tends to get a bit dried out in the reheat process, if your going to do rice , then be very careful with it , make sure its heated very hot and well, , rice is a high risk food , so its probably best to avoid using anything but fresh cooked on the rice front.
If your going to cook seafood or shell fish ,then make sure its as fresh as can be,, no cooking frozen seafood and refreezing
dont forget to label and date everything and keep no longer than 3 months from date of cooking and freezing. also dont let the food sit too long in the fridge after preparation before freezing , so try and freeze on the same day, dont make it a couple days before then decide to freeze
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
when life hands you lemons, make lemon gelee, lemon meringue pie, or any other dessert your heart desires
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