Everyone loves getting Chinese takeout from time to time. They always give you tons of food, and if you’re like me, that means there are always leftovers to deal with. It’s important to know how to store the extra food so that you can safely eat it.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about storing Chinese food leftovers, guide you through the best ways to do it safely, and give you some tips to make the most of your leftovers.
Why Leftovers Need to be Stored Safely
All food contains bacteria, and some of these bacteria can be harmful. When food is cooked, the bacteria are killed, and it becomes safe to eat. Over time, though, more come back and can make your food unsafe to eat if you don’t store it properly.
Specifically, the bacteria grow fastest between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is dangerous to let the food sit for a while at room temperature. Harmful bacteria can cause food poisoning, with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, or abdominal cramping.
In a refrigerator, which usually has a temperature of around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the bacteria still grow, but they grow a lot slower. Food is usually safe to eat for up to four days, as long as you’ve stored it properly.
Freezers, which have temperatures closer to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, stop the growth of bacteria. If your food is properly stored in a freezer, then it will be safe to eat indefinitely. However, once the food is brought back to the refrigerator or room temperature, it will perish at the same rate as if it had not been frozen.
Next, I’ll give you some different ways to properly store your Chinese leftovers.
Put Away the Leftovers Immediately
At room temperature, the food will only be safe to eat for a few hours. You don’t know how long it sat around at the restaurant before you received it, so to be on the safe side, you should put away your leftovers as soon as you get the food. Just help yourself to the amount you expect to eat, and put the rest into your refrigerator or freezer.
One extra tip: you can spread the food out into flat portions so that it cools faster when you put it in the fridge. Avoid deep, clumpy portions, as their center will stay warm for longer and can harbor bacteria to grow.
You shouldn’t put very hot food straight into the fridge or freezer, as condensation can ruin the food, and the heat from the food can throw off the temperature of the refrigerator or freezer. But once it’s cooled a bit, it’s a good idea to put it in as soon as possible.
While you’re at it, you may wish to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer to make sure they’ll keep your food safe for as long as possible. Your refrigerator should be set to store food around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer should be set to around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Store it in an Airtight Container
It’s important that you store your Chinese leftovers in a different container than the one they came in. Cartons or styrofoam trays will allow air to flow into the food, increasing bacteria growth, and also making the food stale over time.
After you receive the food and take the portion, you’ll eat, move the rest to a new, airtight container, and put it in the fridge. I recommend glass containers, but plastic can also be used, as long as it is airtight.
Wrap the Container in Plastic Wrap
If you don’t have an extra airtight container, here’s an alternative you could try. Storing the food in its original containers, you can prevent airflow by tightly wrapping the containers in plastic wrap. Then place them in the fridge, and they’ll keep nearly as well as if you had placed them in a different container.
If you want to store your food for longer, you can freeze it. You should freeze anything that you don’t expect to eat within 6 days.
Food kept in the freezer will be good for months. It won’t ever perish, but after a few months, it can become dry, stiff, and tasteless.
As with the refrigerator, you’ll want to freeze the food in an airtight container. If you want to freeze the food, I’d suggest allowing it to cool a bit before freezing to avoid condensation.
Use a Sealable Plastic Food-Safe Bag or an Aluminum Food Container
Modern technology has invented plenty of ways to store food. If you don’t have any plastic or glass airtight containers around, you can use sealable plastic bags or aluminum food containers.
Some bags are also reusable, whereas aluminum food containers can only be used once. If you use a bag, try to get as much air out as possible before refrigerating or freezing. This will also help save space.
Deconstruct Dishes and Store Ingredients Separately
Sometimes, different ingredients have different shelf lives. To get the most out of your leftovers, you’ll want to deconstruct dishes as much as you can and store ingredients separately.
It would be hard to separate all the individual ingredients in something like Kung Pao Chicken, of course. But if you order a simpler dish like Beef with Broccoli, you can store the beef and the broccoli separately in your fridge.
Place each ingredient in its own airtight container, heat them separately, and combine them when you’re ready to eat the leftovers. Not only will the food last longer this way, but it’ll also help preserve the flavor, texture, and consistency when you heat everything.
What to Freeze and What to Refrigerate
This link bring you to the post: How Long Will Chinese Food Last In The Fridge?
There’s not a fine line determining which foods you should freeze and which you should refrigerate, but some do better than others in the freezer. It is popular to freeze rice and noodles, as these will stay a healthy, tasty consistency after they’ve been thawed.
You can also freeze meats, vegetables, and other dishes, but freezing sauces can cause them to lose a lot of their flavor.
If you expect you’ll eat the food within a week, then it’s best to just put it in the refrigerator.
One alternative is to ask for sauces on the side. This will prevent meats, vegetables, noodles, or rice from becoming soggy, whether you refrigerate or freeze them.
Thawing Tips for Frozen Chinese Food Leftovers
this link bring you to the post: Can Chinese Food Be Left Out Overnight
If you’ve decided to freeze your leftovers, you’ll want to thaw them properly to get the best taste. To avoid hard, soggy, or tasteless food, thaw the food by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. The food will slowly come up to the refrigerator’s temperature, which is still low enough to prevent bacteria growth.
Once the food is thawed, it’s shelf life will be the same as right before it was frozen. For example, if the food had a shelf life of four days in the refrigerator, and was refrigerated for one day before it was frozen, then the shelf life of the thawed food would be three days.
Avoid thawing food by microwaving, as this can cause the food to become soggy and tasteless. Avoid thawing by leaving it out at room temperature, as bacteria will begin to grow.
After food has been thawed, never refreeze it – the food will lose all of its flavors, and bacteria can grow to unsafe amounts. Only thaw food that you expect you’ll want to eat and keep the rest frozen. If you thaw extra food, store any extras in the refrigerator and consume within a few days, depending on the remaining shelf-life.
Reheating Tips for Chinese Food Leftovers
This link bring you to the post: 5 Best Ways to Reheat Chinese Food Leftovers
Whether your food was frozen and thawed or just refrigerated, there are some tips that you can follow to make sure your leftovers taste as good as when you got them:
- Reheat the food in a wok. Reheating this way will evenly heat the dish without affecting its moisture or texture too much. It will taste as good as when you first got it!
- Try to avoid using the microwave. Microwaves can cause your food to become soggy or hard, and they will heat it unevenly. It won’t taste as good as the first time around, but it’s quick and easy. One trick is to use lower microwave power for a longer cooking time to help the food cook more evenly.
- Break rice clumps apart. If you’ve ever put rice in the fridge, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it clumps up. Before heating up your rice, break up the clumps with a fork or your fingers. This will help it heat evenly.
- Don’t heat leftovers up more than once. Each time you heat them up, they lose a lot of flavor and texture. Only heat up what you expect to eat.
- Never heat up leftovers in a slow cooker. Slow cookers aren’t designed to bring the food much higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so they’ll cause all the bacteria in your food to grow prolifically. This greatly increases the chances that you’ll get sick from eating the food.
The Rice Recooking Technique
If you do use a microwave, one trick will help you preserve the texture and moisture of your rice.
Place the rice in a bowl, with any meats and sauces on top of it, without mixing. Cover the bowl with an upside-down plate. Microwave for 15-30 seconds and then flip. The rice is now on top. Take off the bowl for a moment, sprinkle some water on the rice, and then cover with the bowl again.
Microwave for another 90 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on how much food you’re heating up, and when it’s finished, let it sit for another two minutes. You’ve essentially just re-steamed your rice! When it’s done, your rice will be soft, moist, and flavorful.
Repurposing Leftovers into New Meals
If you’re worried that your leftovers won’t taste as good as when you got them, consider repurposing them. You can create an entirely new dish from the leftover food you have, with minimal addition of new ingredients.
For example, you could try:
- Lettuce wraps. Wrap your chicken or beef dish in lettuce, add a little rice, and help yourself to a tasty, healthy (err…healthier) wrap.
- Tacos. Instead of putting it in a lettuce wrap, put it in a tortilla for a tasty taco treat. This works great with fried chicken-based dishes like Sesame Chicken, Orange Chicken, or General Tso’s Chicken.
- Fried rice arancini. If you’re feeling bold, take your extra fried rice, ball it up, and fry it, like Italian-style arancini. These are a little harder to cook, and you don’t actually want the rice to reach room temperature before frying. Nonetheless, you’ll be amazed at how delicious these little bites are!
- Rice pudding. Just because your fried rice is a savory dish doesn’t mean you can’t make it sweet. By adding some milk, sugar, vanilla, and a tiny bit of salt, you can make a delicious rice pudding dessert from your leftover fried rice.
(Source: Spoon University)
Of course, you can always get creative and make something nobody’s ever heard of. Take a look at your leftovers to see what ingredients and flavors you have available, and then mix and match them to create something fun, exciting, and delicious!
Chinese Food Pizza
While we’re on the topic of repurposing Chinese leftovers, it would be unfair to leave Fong’s Pizza unmentioned. Fong’s is one of the most popular restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa. Their specialty? Chinese food pizza.
While Fong’s earned their reputation with dishes a little more complicated than just dumping extra General Tso’s Chicken on a slice of cheese pizza, you’d be surprised how well some of these odd flavor combinations work. Give it a try sometime – put your extra Chinese leftovers on pizza, tacos, pasta – whatever you have available!
What To Order For Tasty Leftovers
Besides combining foods, you can follow some general guidelines to make sure that you have a lot of leftovers that taste good and are safe to eat.
First, make sure you avoid raw or undercooked meats. Sushi is not common in Chinese food, but some Chinese restaurants serve it – you should avoid sushi, as it cannot be stored safely for any length of time. Avoid any other raw meats.
Rice and noodles tend to keep pretty well, including fried rice and noodle dishes like lo mein or mei fun. If you order noodles, I’d suggest getting the sauce on the side to avoid soggy noodles.
Chicken, pork, and beef dishes tend to keep pretty well, but make sure you follow tip #6 and store ingredients separately. The meat is likely to go bad earlier than the vegetables, and you don’t want to spoil the whole dish when one ingredient goes bad.
How to Determine if Leftovers are Good to Eat
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what to do with your leftovers: how you want to store them, how long to store them for, and whether they’re still safe to eat or not. If you follow the practices I’ve mentioned in this article, your food should stay safe for as long as possible. However, it will eventually perish still, and you can get sick by eating it.
To determine if leftovers are okay to eat, give them a smell check. If the food smells any different than when you first got it, it’s probably gone bad. If there is any sour, pungent, or foul odor, it has definitely gone bad.
Any major changes in color or consistency can also indicate that food has gone bad. If you see any white patches of mold in the food, it has perished.
Never eat perished food. It can make you incredibly sick and send you to the hospital in severe cases. The only thing to do with perished food is to throw it out, and if you’re not sure, the safest thing to do is to get rid of it – when in doubt, throw it out!
Summary: How to Store and Reheat Chinese Food Leftovers
Chinese food is delicious, and the leftovers can be too if you take care of them properly. Store your extra Chinese food as soon as possible, either in the fridge or freezer, in airtight bags or containers.
Make sure to thaw frozen food before reheating, and only reheat once. Reheat in a wok for the best taste, or get creative and make a new dish of your own!