How Long to Safely Keep Leftovers

and Other Tips for a Healthy Fridge Clean-Out

December 23, 2022

Did you know there is a National Clean out Your Refrigerator Day?

This day was created by Whirlpool Home Appliances in 1999 to encourage people to clean out their refrigerator before the upcoming holidays.

And while the national day is celebrated November 15th, anytime really is a good time to clean out your fridge! Not only will it help get rid of pesky leftovers, but it helps place items for optimal safe food storage. Plus, have you ever wondered how long you can keep those leftovers?

Last year, I did a TV interview on WFLA in Tampa on Bloom TV, and showed my refrigerator after I had cleaned and organized it for National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day.

how long to store leftovers

Click to see the interview.

And does it still look like this? Oh heck, no. Not.even.close. The holidays have wreaked havoc on it!

So to make sure that doesn’t happen again anytime soon, I’m going to do a fridge clean-out, and thought I’d share my favorite tips.

Read on for my favorite refrigerator clean-out tips, then stick around for how long to safely store food – leftovers and all!

How long to store leftovers

Not only does it look great to have a clean fridge, but it feels great, and it’s much easier to clean when you have a (somewhat) regular clean-out schedule.

AND it can save money by being able to quickly and easily see everything in your fridge, decreasing the chances of buying an item you already have, or worse yet – having something go bad before you could use it.

While cleaning out your fridge is usually a tedious task, there are some simple step-by-step way to make cleaning your fridge easy.

Tips for Cleaning Out Your Fridge

-Have an empty countertop space to collect the items, or a small cooler to place items in while you clean.

 -Use the countertop to sort the items into:

 – Items you use everyday. Place these into the cooler.

 – Items you use less frequently. These should also go into the cooler.

 – Expired items to throw away. Toss these.

-This is also a good time to write down those items that were expired or low that you need to replenish. When you’re ready to buy new ones, buy a safer brand of the products you use most. (If you need help with this, grab my book, The Slightly Greener Method)! And if you want to save money on those organic and/or safer products, find out how to do that with my favorite money-saving tips here.

-Now it’s time to tackle those shelves. Remove all items one shelf at a time to make it more doable. Start on the top shelf, since wiping away crumbs and debris can make their way to lower shelves.

-After clearing each shelf, sort the items into one of the three groups. Then vacuum or wipe up any crumbs or debris. Wash the shelves with a soft sponge or washcloth dipped in warm, soapy water (not hot, if the shelves are still in the fridge; hot water on a cold shelf can crack it). I like to use liquid castile soap by Vermont Soap.

-Clean out drawers – empty drawers completely and vacuum out any crumbs. Remover them to clean out and underneath.

DIY Grime-Busting Cleaner

For stuck on-messes, spray the area with a Castile-soap based cleaner (like this one) and let it sit for several minutes, then wipe away. Or you can also make a paste to gently scrub the grimy area. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Combine approximately 2 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl to make a paste.
  2. Spread the paste over the grimy areas, then lightly spray vinegar over the DIY Stovetop Cleanerpaste to make it fizz and bubble. Scrub gently with a soft sponge, so you don’t scratch the surface.
  3. For stubborn areas, let the scrub dry completely, then spray lightly with vinegar before scrubbing it away. 
Putting it Back Together

Now that you’ve sorted the items and have tossed the expired/unwanted items, it’s time to organize and put everything back in!

There are lots of great Pinterest-y ideas out there for organizing your fridge, but I’m not one for buying all the plastic containers to organize (but if you are, definitely go for it!). I always feel like they look beautiful fully stocked, but once items start to dwindle, the unbalanced look drives me a little crazy. Am I the only one?

But that’s just my opinion, and I am definitely not against a couple here and there to help organize sauces, etc. if needed. Do what you’re comfortable with.

To start, place items you use less frequently toward the back of the fridge. You should be able to see them better now that you have more room. Items that you use daily or more often should be toward the front of the fridge. 

Where to Store Items

  • Raw meats should be stored in containers or sealed plastic bags to avoid cross-contamination and possible leakage. Place them on the bottom shelf to avoid contamination by any drippings.
  • Store items like meat, milk, and eggs in the actual compartment of the refrigerator instead of in the doors. The main compartment is the coldest area of the fridge, and the doors are the warmest. The doors should only be used for things like condiments and dressings, etc (even if it has that cool egg holder!).
  • Don’t over-fill the fridge. Air needs to circulate in order for the refrigerator to cool efficiently.
How Long Can You Keep Foods?

Meats like beef, veal, pork roasts, steaks and chops can be kept 3 to 5 days in the fridge before cooking or freezing.

For fresh chicken, ground meat, and ground poultry, turkey, the USDA recommends refrigerating and using them within 1 to 2 days before either cooking or freezing.

After cooking, meats, poultry, and seafood can be safely stored in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days.

Eggs – Use within 3-5 weeks after purchase, and according to the FDA, eggs can still be used within that time frame even if the “sell by” date has passed (as long as you purchase them by that date).

How Long Leftovers Can be Stored

To avoid food poisoning, the Mayo Clinic recommends refrigerating leftovers within 2 hours and eating them within 3-4 days.

A great resource for what labels mean (like “best by” and “sell by,” etc.) and how long to store even more foods, is the “Food Facts” guide from the FDA, or download the FoodKeeper app for Apple and Android.

How Often You Should Clean Out Your Fridge

Your refrigerator should be cleaned out every 3-4 months, but keeping up on proper food storage and doing weekly expired items clean-outs will cut down on the amount of time those deeper cleans will take.

To keep up on the all the hard work you just did, set a timer reminder on your phone each week the day before your garbage gets picked up, to remember to clean out any leftovers that weren’t eaten, or any expired produce, etc. This makes it much easier to do those deeper cleans every couple of months!


The Slightly Greener Method Book

*None of the links in this post are affiliate, commission-based links. Just products I use and love!