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What foods can be reheated?

When it comes to food, most of us are aware of “use by” dates, cooking times and the safest way to cook the perfect meal. But when it comes to leftovers, how in the know are you on the best practice ways to reheat and enjoy different foods? Here we take a look at what foods can be reheated and how you can safely do so.

It turns out that many of us are pretty in the dark when it comes to what foods are safe to enjoy a second time around. But from knowing how best to store and reheat meals, to getting to grips with which foods should never be reheated – today you’ve come to the right place! We’ve already covered the ins and outs of cooking foods from frozen, and, today, we are going to be delving into the dos and don’ts of reheating foods.

Why do we reheat food?

We’ve all been there – you’ve just got home from a long day at the office, and all you want is a quick and easy meal. So, what do you do? On those days when you want to give the pizza delivery guy a night off, there’s nothing quite like reaching into your fridge for a prepared homecooked meal and popping it into the microwave for a few minutes.

In short, reheating food offers us flexibility and convenience – ultimately allowing us to enjoy our time spent doing other things. But, do you know which meals you can reheat and those that are best in the bin? If not, then you’re not alone.

With food waste being an ongoing issue around the UK, it’s no surprise that more and more of us are looking to bulk prep and reheat meals.

Did you know?
Approximately one third of all the food we buy ends up in the bin.

So, whether you’re a “when in doubt throw it out” type of person or not, there are a number of ways you can approach food prep to avoid unnecessary wastage – and food poisoning – all in one go! But what are the benefits of reheating food? Here are just a few:

  • Convenience
  • Organisation
  • Money saving
  • Avoids wastage
Cooked food stored ready to be reheated

Why it’s important to know which foods are, and aren’t, safe to reheat

If you’ve risked reheating the odd Tupperware meal without first checking if it is safe to do so then you could be exposing yourself to a range of dangerous bacteria and toxins. In most cases food poisoning is short lived and although unpleasant is not serious. However, there are some cases where serious food poisoning has been fatal, so it is important to be familiar with the types of food you should and shouldn’t be reheating. Ways to avoid cross contamination should always be considered.

The main types of bacteria include:

  • Campylobacter – This type of bacteria is reportedly present in 76% of UK supermarket chickens and on the exterior of the 6% of supermarket chicken packaging. Campylobacter is also commonly found in unpasteurised milk.
  • Salmonella – Most commonly associated with raw egg, milk and other dairy products as well as raw or undercooked meats.
  • Listeria – Many pre-packaged convenience foods contain Listeria bacteria such as sandwiches and cooked meats. In these cases, it is important to stick to the recommended “use by” dates.

Of course, these are just a few of the most common bacteria found to cause food poisoning, however, there are many more which can occur from reheating food incorrectly. Whilst many people assume food poisoning is more likely to happen when eating out or on-the-go, where control over food preparation is in someone else’s hands, the reality is in fact far different.

Did you know?
Around half of all reported cases of food poisoning happen at home.

Some of the most common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Feeling intense sickness and nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration

According to the NHS Food poisoning affects 5.5 million people in the UK every year

So, how can we work to combat food poisoning through the correct reheating of our favourite foods?

Get to grips with reheating best practices

There are a few important things to think about when it comes to reheating food, and this is the case regardless of the type of food you are reheating.

Here are some of our top tips for the best ways to reheat foods:

  1. Microwaves are a fast and convenient way to reheat meals, however, most people don’t realise that they often heat food up unevenly and so there is a high risk of areas being left cold where bacteria can thrive. Simply getting your food out halfway through the cooking time and giving it a thorough stir can help distribute the heat and ensure the entire meal is cooked through.
  2. When cooking in bulk, it is important to get the food into the fridge or freezer as fast as possible to avoid bacteria growth. It is typically recommended that foods are put into the fridge within a couple of hours of cooking (ensuring they have cooled before doing so).
  3. Leftovers in the fridge should generally always be consumed within two days.
  4. When reheating foods, it is important to ensure the meal is cooked through thoroughly. As a rule, meals should reach a reheating minimum core temperature of 70°C or above for two minutes before eating.
  5. It is a general rule of thumb that foods should not be reheated more than once as this can break down the nutrients and the regular change in temperatures can encourage bacteria to grow.
  6. Foods taken from the freezer should be left to thoroughly defrost either in the fridge or microwave before cooking, and should be consumed within 24 hours.

We understand that knowing all the correct ways to cook and handle foods can be pretty daunting. So, from dairy to meat and everything in between, here you can find the recommended best practice ways to reheat some of your favourite foods.

Can you reheat meat?

chicken reheated in microwave

Typically, foods high in protein are more likely to pose a risk when handled and reheated incorrectly. However, that doesn’t mean that meat cannot be reheated and safely enjoyed. Here is what you need to know about reheating meat:

  • Chicken – When it comes to poultry, the biggest cause of bacteria forming is undercooking. Chicken can be reheated by microwaving for anywhere between 2 and 5 minutes. Adjust the cooking time for smaller or larger pieces, and always ensure that you flip the chicken halfway through cooking.
  • Pork – Pork is a versatile meat which can be reheated and enjoyed a second time around. Whilst it is fine to reheat pork in the oven or even in a frying pan, the fastest method is to reheat it in the microwave. Typically covering your slices of pork in a microwaveable container and heating them for approximately 5 minutes before removing, then turning the pieces over and going again for a further 3–5 minutes until the food is piping hot throughout, is enough. Ensure it is consumed immediately after reheating.
  • Beef – Beef can be reheated in the oven, microwave or fryer, and depending on how well-done the meat is will determine how long it needs to be reheated for. If you are reheating a medium cooked piece of beef in the microwave then you can opt for a cooking time of around 10 minutes, ensuring you take the meat out after 5 minutes to turn it over.

Can you reheat fish?

Fish reheated on a plate

Similar to meat, fish and seafood can be high-risk food items if cooked and reheated incorrectly. For this reason, it is important to ensure cooked fish and seafood is chilled as soon as possible after cooking, ideally within an hour – and then consumed within 2 days.

When reheating fish fillets like salmon and haddock, it is best done in the oven with the piece of fish wrapped in tinfoil to ensure it maintains its juices and doesn’t go hard. Ensure the fish is piping hot throughout before consuming, and never reheat fish twice.

Can you reheat dairy?

Quiche that has been reheated

Dairy is often considered a risky food to reheat as it can quickly and easily develop harmful bacteria. However, done correctly, you can in fact safely reheat most dairy products including:

  • Cheese – Most foods containing cheese such as pizza, pasta and quiche can be reheated in the oven or microwave once. As with all foods that you reheat, to ensure optimal safety we advise ensuring the food is thoroughly cooked and piping hot throughout. Any meals containing cheese must have been stored in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking and be consumed within 2–4 days.
  • Milk – Milk can safely be reheated; however, it often loses quality and results in a less tasty drink. Where possible we advise heating fresh milk to avoid this; however, for those opting to reheat milk, always ensure it is stored in the fridge in an airtight container and used within 2 days.

Can you reheat eggs?

Eggs on toast.

Eggs are pretty easy to work with, and most can be enjoyed a second time around – however, unlike most other foods which can be conveniently reheated in the microwave, eggs cannot. Eggs reheated in the microwave will often explode which can cause a hazard to the machine.

  • Boiled eggs – If you are reheating boiled eggs, we recommend heating them up in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes. Never reheat boiled eggs more than once, and consume immediately.
  • Poached eggs – Poached eggs can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days after cooking, but to ensure bacteria doesn’t form they must be placed into ice water immediately after cooking. Poached eggs must only ever be reheated once.
  • Fried eggs – Whilst it is safe to reheat fried eggs, it is not recommended as this type of egg will merely go hard and rubbery, leaving it inedible. When cooking fried eggs, we always recommend working with fresh produce.

Can you reheat vegetables?

Reheated vegetables in a bowl.

As a general rule, reheating vegetables should be pretty easy and straightforward – however, there are many different vegetables, and some reheat better than others. Vegetables such as beetroot, for example, don’t reheat well as they lose their appealing taste and texture, and so are best served cold the second time around.

When reheating vegetables in the microwave it is best to do so in a small amount of water to help them maintain their juices. However, if you are reheating roasted vegetables this is best done in the oven.

Can you reheat starchy foods?

Cheesy pasta dish

Foods such as rice, pasta and bread are often up for debate when it comes to the question of safe reheating. In fact, rice in particular is often deemed a hazardous food to reheat, so what’s the truth?

  • Rice – Whilst it’s true that rice can be harmful when reheated, this is not always the case. Rice can develop a unique type of bacteria called Bacillus Cereus which can be resistant to heat and therefore become toxic when reheated and consumed. If you want to reheat rice you can avoid bacteria growing by keeping the rice cold between cooking and reheating by safely storing it in the fridge within an hour of cooking.
  • Potatoes – Reheating plain potatoes is fine so long as they are stored in the fridge in an airtight container. When reheating roasted or other crispy style potatoes, it is recommended that you avoid microwave cooking which can cause the potatoes to become soggy.
  • Pasta – As with most starchy foods, pasta can be safely reheated so long as it is stored immediately in the fridge and in an airtight container. Pasta must be piping hot throughout before consuming.

What are the best ways to reheat foods?

As we have seen, by far, one of the most popular ways to reheat food is in the microwave thanks to the convenience and speed of doing do. However, other popular methods include oven and pan frying.

Reheating chicken in a microwave.

Reheating food in a slow cooker

Many people opt to cook meals in a slow cooker as they are safe and convenient ways to prepare food. However, due to the nature of a slow cooker it is not advisable to reheat any foods as it takes too long to reach a safe temperature and therefore is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow.

Reheating food in business

If you work with food in any capacity, it is important to know about the extra steps you should be taking. Reheating foods for the public or your customers to consume is acceptable to do, however, you should make sure that you’ve supplied a form which states the food has been reheated. Gaining their signature to declare that they are happy to eat the reheated food helps to protect your business, in the unlikely event that the person gets an upset stomach.

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About the author

Fiona Peake

Fiona Peake

Fiona has been writing for a number of years. With a special interest in turning complicated topics into readable, enjoyable words. Fiona has written across a range of subjects from health & safety and education to business and marketing. Outside of work Fiona likes to spend time with her husband and her Romanian rescue dog River, taking him for long walks outdoors, Fiona also likes to go to the gym and relax with a good book.


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What foods can be reheated?

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