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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.
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:
- Money saving
- Avoids wastage
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.
Some of the most common symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Feeling intense sickness and nausea
- Stomach cramps
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.
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.
4. 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.
5. 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 Quorn?
Yes, it is safe to reheat all types of Quorn products. However, they must have been kept safely in the fridge before reheating and eaten within 48 hours. When reheating Quorn, ensure that it is piping hot before serving. Never reheat Quorn more than once.
There are so many different types of Quorn products, which you can include in various dishes. The method for reheating and timings will depend on the product and the type of dish.
Can you reheat meat?
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:
Can you reheat chicken?
Yes, contrary to belief, you can safely reheat your chicken. However, it must have been cooked and stored properly beforehand, and it must be steaming hot all the way through after reheating. If it is a large piece of chicken, it is best to check the core temperature using a probe.
Chicken can be reheated in the oven, a pan or microwave. If you are using a microwave to reheat, remember that food does not always cook evenly, so it is always best to check the core temperature. Chicken can be reheated by microwaving for anywhere between two and five minutes. Adjust the cooking time for smaller or larger pieces, and always ensure that you flip the chicken halfway through cooking.
Chicken can dry out and become inedible when reheating, so adding some fat is recommended, e.g. oil or butter, and cutting it into smaller pieces.
Can you reheat pork?
Yes, pork is versatile and can be reheated and enjoyed a second time around. However, particular dishes, such as roast pork and chops, can become dry and tough after reheating. You may want to create new dishes using these types of pork.
Whilst it is ok to reheat pork in the oven or even in a frying pan on the hob, the fastest method is to reheat it in the microwave. Cover your slices of pork in a microwaveable container and heat them for approximately five minutes. Then turn the pieces over and microwave again for a further 3–5 minutes until the food is piping hot. Ensure it is consumed immediately after reheating.
Can you reheat turkey?
Yes, but like any other poultry, it must be prepared and stored safely before reheating. Turkey tends to be dry, so reheating can make it inedible if it lacks moisture after initial cooking. Whether you decide to reheat in the oven, microwave, or on the hob, you will need additional liquid and fat. Depending on your dish, you can add gravy, stock or butter, and it is always best to cut the turkey into thin slices. BBC Good Food has a guide to help you cook a moist turkey.
Can you reheat sausages?
Yes, all types of sausage (meat and meat-free) can be reheated, but those containing meat will carry a higher risk. On initial cooking, they should be chilled as quickly as possible and not left in the fridge for more than three days before reheating.
Sausages that have been previously cooked and chilled can be added to other dishes, such as tray bakes and toad-in-the-hole. As long as you reheat them properly, you should have a safe and tasty dish. Here are seven ways to use up leftover sausages.
Where possible, cut your sausages in half length-ways before reheating. It will prevent them from becoming dry and will ensure they are thoroughly cooked.
Can you reheat beef?
Yes, it is safe to reheat beef and any dishes containing this type of meat. However, it can become dry and tough, especially when put back into the oven without sauce or liquid.
The best method for reheating beef will depend on the thickness of the meat and the type of dish reheated. If it was previously cooked in a casserole or sauce, add some additional liquid and reheat in the microwave, slow cooker or saucepan. Any leftover beef from a roast dinner can be added to other dishes, such as pies and curries, or eaten cold in sandwiches or salads.
Beef should be chilled within two hours of initial cooking and eaten within three days. Regardless of the type of beef dish you are reheating, it should only be reheated once and must be piping hot through before consumption.
Can you reheat lamb?
Yes, you can safely reheat lamb. Unlike some other meats, it is also fattier, which should prevent it from drying out. It will depend on the type of cut, the fat remaining after initial cooking and the reheating method. After initially cooking your lamb, put it in the fridge within two hours and consume it within three days.
To keep your lamb moist when reheating in a microwave, oven or pan, you will need to add moisture and fat. Reheating your lamb in the oven is one of the best methods, but it can take longer, so it is not the most convenient option. If you have time, preheat the oven to 160-170°C, put the lamb in an ovenproof dish, add a little liquid and/or fat and cover it loosely with foil. Cook the lamb for 10 minutes on one side, turn it over and cook for a further 10 minutes. The exact timings will depend on the cut and thickness of the lamb.
You can use your leftover lamb in other dishes, such as casseroles and curries. Do not reheat more than once, and ensure it is piping hot by using a temperature probe.
Can you reheat gammon?
Yes, like other pork products, you can safely reheat gammon steaks and joints. There is a risk of it drying out, which you can prevent by adding liquid to the dish or basting the gammon before reheating.
Reheating your gammon in the oven is the best option. It should be covered with foil and baked at a lower temperature. You can use the microwave, but this method is only recommended for smaller quantities, such as a few slices. Again, adding liquid to a microwaveable container will help keep your gammon juicy.
Gammon should always be chilled in the fridge within two hours of initial cooking and never reheated a second time. As with all high-risk foods, it is best to check the temperature to ensure that it is hot all the way through.
Can you reheat steak?
Yes, steak can be safely reheated. However, if you like a rarer steak, it may be best to eat your steak fresh. Reheating steak will result in a more well-done piece of meat.
You can reheat your steak in the oven, microwave or a pan on the hob. However, reheating it in the microwave is not the best way to go. You can also use it in other dishes, and it can even be eaten cold in sandwiches and salads.
Steak can become dry, tough and can lose flavour when reheating, so add enough liquid or fat to prevent this. Adding water can affect the flavour, so you might want to add a sauce or oil/butter (not olive oil) and reheat it in the oven. Whether you add a sauce or not, oven reheating is the best method and should take 20-30 minutes (depending on the thickness of the steak).
Can you reheat fish?
Yes. However, similar to meat, fish and seafood can be high-risk food items if cooked, stored and reheated incorrectly. For this reason, it is essential to ensure fish and seafood is chilled as soon as possible after initial cooking (ideally within an hour) and then consumed within two days.
The method for reheating fish will depend on the type of fish/seafood, how it was cooked initially and other ingredients in the dish. It is best to reheat most fish dishes in the oven at a low temperature in an ovenproof dish covered loosely in foil. Cook it for approximately 15 minutes. You can also steam the fish, which will help retain its moisture.
You can use the microwave method, but it will usually make the fish dry, and there will be a fishy odour in your microwave. If you decide to use the microwave, reheat on a lower heat in short bursts. Always check it is piping hot before serving.
Can you reheat salmon?
Yes, it is safe to reheat salmon, but it must be done properly to retain the taste and texture and to ensure it is safe to eat. After cooking the salmon dish initially, it must be chilled quickly (within one hour) and stored in the fridge for no longer than two days.
Salmon can dry out, so choose an appropriate method for the type of dish. When reheating salmon fillets, it is best to reheat in the oven with the piece of fish wrapped in tinfoil to ensure it maintains its juices and does not go hard and dry. Ensure the fish is piping hot throughout before consuming, and never reheat fish more than once. You can also incorporate the salmon in other dishes, such as in a fish pie, a stir fry or fish cakes.
Can you reheat prawns?
Yes, it is safe to reheat prawns, as long as they were handled properly and safely during preparation and storage. Depending on the dish and type of prawns, reheating may affect their texture and appearance, reducing the quality.
Seafood carries a higher risk of food poisoning, so whether you are reheating in the oven, microwave or on the hob, it must always be piping hot before serving and only reheated once. Raw prawns will always need cooking before consumption.
Can you reheat fish pie?
Yes, but remember, fish and seafood items can be high risk if cooked, stored and reheated incorrectly. The fish in the pie will also be drier after reheating, but this should not affect the quality to a great extent, and it will still be safe to eat.
Fish pie can be reheated in the oven or microwave, depending on how much time you have. The microwave method is more effective for smaller portions of fish pie. If you are using the oven method, cover the fish pie to avoid burning the topping. Depending on the size and ingredients, it can take up to an hour to reheat in the oven.
Ensure that it is heated evenly and is steaming hot throughout before serving. Never reheat fish pie more than once.
Can you reheat dairy?
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:
Can you reheat cheese?
Yes, 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.
Can you reheat milk?
Yes, milk can be safely reheated. However, it often loses quality, becomes gritty and results in a less tasty drink. Where possible, you should heat fresh milk to avoid this. You can do this on the hob or in the microwave. Heating plant-based milk is not recommended, as it can curdle at high temperatures.
If you opt to reheat milk, always ensure it is stored in the fridge in an airtight container and use within two days.
Can you reheat eggs?
Yes. Eggs are pretty easy to work with, and most are tasty a second time around. However, unlike other foods, some eggs cannot be reheated in the microwave. Reheating eggs in the microwave can cause them to explode, which can be a hazard to the appliance and the person cooking.
Can you reheat omelette?
Yes, surprisingly, you can reheat an omelette. Although, do not expect it to be the same as when it is fresh. If you have any fillings in your omelette, such as vegetables, these can make it soggy as they release liquid during storage in the fridge. The texture of the eggs may also change, and the omelette may break during reheating. It is always best to enjoy an omelette fresh where possible and even cold with a salad.
If, for whatever reason, you need to chill your cooked omelette, you should do this within two hours of cooking and consume it within two days. The best way to reheat an omelette is in the microwave, but you can also use the oven, hob or grill. Be careful of overheating it, as it can become rubbery, but always ensure it is piping hot.
Can you reheat boiled eggs?
Yes you can reheat boiled eggs, if you are reheating boiled eggs, you should heat them in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes. Never reheat boiled eggs more than once, and consume immediately.
Can you reheat poached eggs?
Yes, they can be stored in the fridge for up to two days after initial cooking, but to ensure bacteria do not form, submerge the eggs into ice water immediately after cooking. Poached eggs can be reheated in a saucepan of boiling water but must only ever be reheated once.
Can you reheat fried eggs?
It is safe to reheat fried eggs, however it is not recommended as this type of egg will go hard and rubbery, leaving it inedible. When cooking fried eggs, always try to consume them fresh from the frying pan.
Can you reheat scrambled eggs?
Yes, scrambled eggs can be reheated in a microwaveable dish at 30-second intervals until hot.
Can you reheat vegetables?
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?
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?
Can you reheat rice?
Yes, but store the rice correctly before reheating to prevent food poisoning. If cooked rice has been sitting at room temperature, Bacillus cereus bacteria can grow from heat-resistant spores and produce toxins. The longer the rice is at room temperature, the higher the risk of food poisoning, even if it is put in the fridge and then reheated.
It is always best to eat rice dishes soon after cooking. If rice is not served immediately, it should be chilled quickly and where possible within one hour of cooking. Do not keep rice in the fridge for more than one day, and when reheating, you should check it is piping hot all the way through. Never reheat any rice dishes more than once.
Can you reheat pasta?
Yes, as with most starchy foods, pasta can be reheated, so long as it was cooled and stored immediately in an airtight container in the fridge on initial cooking. Pasta must be piping hot throughout before consuming.
Pasta is a starchy food, and it can stick together after cooking if there is not enough moisture. If the pasta has been cooked without a sauce, you should add a splash of water to it before reheating to stop it from sticking and breaking. You can also add it to dishes, such as pasta bakes.
Can you reheat potatoes?
Yes, it is safe to reheat potatoes. However, they must be stored properly after initial cooking. If they are not, it can result in the growth of a bacterium known as Clostridium botulinum, which can cause a fatal disease, botulism. Cooked potatoes must never be wrapped in foil, as this can provide the ideal conditions for the bacteria to grow.
Always store potatoes in the fridge in an airtight container within one hour of cooking. How long you can keep your potatoes in the fridge will depend on the type and any other ingredients in the dish. Always use potatoes within 3-5 days and reduce this for other added ingredients where necessary, e.g. meat and fish.
There are so many different types of potato dishes, and the best method for reheating will depend on what you want to reheat. When reheating roasted or other crispy style potatoes, such as chips, it is recommended that you avoid the microwave method, as this can cause the potatoes to become soggy. They are better heated in the oven, pan or grill. The microwave method is better for mash, boiled and jacket potatoes.
Where possible, always consume your potatoes and potato dishes fresh. If you do reheat, only do so once and ensure it is piping hot all the way through.
Can you reheat risotto?
Yes, but reheating will affect the food quality, as the rice absorbs moisture and can become dry and sticky. The rice will also become softer and will not have the same texture as fresh risotto.
Add extra liquid (e.g. stock or wine) and butter to the risotto before reheating to prevent it from drying out. You may need to add more during the reheating process.
Risotto can be reheated in the microwave, oven or a pan on the hob. It is easier and quicker to heat the risotto in the microwave on medium for approximately five minutes or until it is hot all the way through. Be careful if you decide to reheat in the oven, as this can burn the outer edges of the dish, and the rice will become hard.
Remember to stir the dish to ensure it does not stick to the pan/container, but not too much.
Can you reheat couscous?
Yes, it is perfectly safe to reheat couscous. However, like pasta and rice, couscous is a starchy food and can stick together and become dry. It can also contain Bacillus cereus (see ‘Can you reheat rice?’). Therefore, it is essential to cook and store it safely before reheating. Only ever reheat couscous once.
To reheat couscous, and prevent it from drying out, increase the moisture by adding a few tablespoons of water and a bit of butter to the dish. For speed, you can put the couscous in a microwaveable container, add the liquid and butter, and microwave on a medium heat. Separate the couscous grains by using a fork and serve piping hot.
Can you reheat noodles?
Yes, it is safe to reheat most types of noodles. However, the problem is that, like all starchy foods, they can absorb moisture and dry out. They can also stick together and break.
Add some liquid to your noodles before reheating in the microwave or a pan on the hob. Even a drop of oil or a knob of butter can stop the noodles from sticking together when reheating. If your noodles are plain, you can use them in a stir fry with a cooking sauce or reheat them in a pan of boiling water for up to 45 seconds.
Noodles should only be reheated once and consumed within three days.
Can you reheat chips?
Yes, whether they are oven or fried, chips can safely be reheated. It is not recommended reheating chips in the microwave, as they can become soggy and inedible due to the moisture in potatoes that cannot escape.
It is important to chill your chips quickly after initial cooking. They should be kept in the fridge, loosely covered, and used within two days.
The best way to reheat chips is in the oven, as the oil will help them stay crispy. Use a piece of kitchen towel to pat them dry before reheating. Put the chips on a baking tray in a single layer and reheat in a hot oven for a few minutes. You shouldn’t need to add any additional oil, as the chips will contain oil from previous cooking. Alternatively, you can deep fry or put them in a frying pan on the hob.
Can you reheat paella?
Yes, but it is essential that it is prepared, cooked, stored and reheated safely. The reason is that most paella dishes contain high-risk ingredients, such as rice, seafood and even meat. See sections on reheating rice, fish and meat.
If you have leftover paella, you can choose to reheat it in the oven, microwave or on the hob in a frying pan. The best method is on the hob and frying the paella in some olive oil on a medium heat until it is piping hot.
Even though you can reheat paella in the microwave, it is not the best method, as it can result in the rice sticking together and affects the structure of the dish. If you do use a microwave, add some olive oil and cover. Ensure the microwave is on medium heat and reheat for two minutes. Check the paella every 30 seconds and stir.
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 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.