Covid-19 disease has affected us all and how we go about our lives. One change is the increase in people preparing and eating meals at home. This leads people to ask how do I reheat leftovers and food safely to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
Before we start answering questions about heating specific foods, there is some general information that always applies.
At home remember to reheat any dish until it’s at least 75 °C throughout - the middle should be piping hot. This temperature kills nearly all harmful bacteria and helps to avoid food poisoning.
If you are a food business then food must be reheated to a core temperature reading of at least 75 °C (England) or at least 82 °C (Scotland).
Frozen food can also be heated up again, but remember to thoroughly defrost it first and ensure that it is hot throughout. TIP: Stir or turn food as it’s cooking to ensure that your food heats evenly.
Prepared food must be properly stored, and prevented from contact with raw food. Never warm up or eat food that may have been contaminated by raw food. You should only reheat food once and shouldn’t freeze or refreeze it.
Staying with general guidelines that apply to all foods, the question of what temperature should food be cooked or warmed up to? Gets asked a variety of ways:
The answer is always the same, whatever method food is heated up by. Such as reheating food sous vide, reheating frozen food in microwave or using instant pot to reheat food. To be really safe all food must be heated to a core (middle) temperature reading of at least 75 °C (England) or at least 82 °C (Scotland).
Hopefully this answers another question: What is the recommended temperature when reheating food in England? Answer: 75 °C
However that begs a couple of questions:
Why can’t you reheat food more than once?
Why shouldn’t you reheat food twice?
Here are some facts to consider. In the UK about a million people every year get food poisoning - and around 100 of them die from it. Half of all those food poisoning cases are found to have been caused by food eaten at home. So how we cook and prepare food and how often is very important for our health and well being.
Food poisoning is normally caused by bacterial contamination. The most common food poisoning bacteria is called Campylobacter. Just 500 Campylobacter can make you very sick whereas it takes many thousands of the more well known, salmonella bacteria to make you ill.
The Food Standards Agency estimate it is present in more than 65% of chickens on sale in the UK. A survey in 2015 also found it on 6% of the outside packaging of supermarket chickens.
Heat kills most food poisoning bacteria - hence the recommendation to thoroughly heat up food to a core temperature of at least 75 °C (England) or at least 82 °C (Scotland).
The danger when heating food is that as the food warms up any bacteria present start multiplying. If there are parts of the food that do not reach a high enough temperature to kill these bacteria. Then this apparently ‘cooked’ food is now potentially poisonous.
The Food Standards Agency recommends only warming up food only the one time. But actually as long as you reach the required high temperature throughout the food you could warm it up as many times as you wish. The texture and flavour may not be so good though!.
Rice is sometimes contaminated by a bacterium called Bacillus cereus, which can cause food poisoning. Cooking the rice by frying or boiling does kill it, but this bacteria produces spores that are resistant to high temperatures.
As cooked rice cools down and enters the temperature danger zone the Bacillus cereus spores start hatching. If the rice is then left at room temperature (in the danger zone) then these hatched bacteria start multiplying. The longer the cooked rice is left at room temperature, the more likely it is that the bacteria or toxins will make the rice unsafe to eat.
So, it is not warming up cooked rice that causes the problem. It is how the rice was stored before it was used again. Cooked rice MUST NOT be allowed to stand for a long time at room temperatures (more than 2 hours). Consume cooked rice soon after preparing.
If you want to eat rice cold, then cool it down quickly after cooking by rinsing through with cold water. When cold put the rice in the fridge and consume preferably within 24 hours.
Now we understand that it is not reheating the rice that causes food poisoning we can answer the question, can you reheat boiled or fried rice,? Or Can you reheat risotto?
Yes you can safely heat up boiled rice, fried rice, risotto, egg fried rice or any dish containing cooked rice. Provided that it was not allowed to stand for more than two hours at room temperature before it was cooled down to below 8°C and stored in a fridge.
If you have left overs or just want to pre-prepare cooked rice or cooked rice dishes. Make sure the rice or dish has been all cooled down to below 8°C within 2 hours. Then store in a fridge and consume within 3 - 4 days.
Take out of the fridge and start straight away. Place in a microwaveable container with a lid. For each cup of rice, add 1–2 tablespoons of water. Place the lid lightly back on top.
Place in the microwave and heat on full power 3–4 minutes, or until piping hot throughout.(stir part way through heating)
Make sure the internal temperature of the rice is at 75 °C or higher. Serve immediately.
Add your choice of oil to a wok, saute or frying pan on medium heat..
Add the rice straight from the fridge stirring continuously. Break up any clumps of rice.
Stir continuously and cook until all the rice or dish has reached 75 °C or higher.
Serve immediately while still piping hot.
Place the rice straight from the fridge into a saucepan with 1–2 tablespoons of butter or oil.
Add 1–2 tablespoons of water for each cup of rice and bring to a simmer. Keep the lid on the saucepan.
Stir occasionally. Once the water has boiled off, check that all the rice or dish is above 75 °C
Serve immediately when still piping hot.
It is also safe to eat rice or rice dishes cold as long as they have been cooled and stored correctly. Do not allow them to warm up to room temperature, they must be eaten chilled.
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You can safely reheat and eat chicken and chicken dishes always providing it was cooked properly in the first place. Chicken can be heated again in any form, for example roasted chicken breast, chicken on the bone, or curried chicken.
Chicken can be warmed up using a microwave, oven, frying pan or slow cooker. Ensure it is heated throughout with no cold spots and has reached 75 °C or higher.
All seafood not just prawns must be handled and prepared properly. Because incorrectly prepared and stored seafood is associated with many cases of severe food poisoning.
If you are going to warm up seafood, then refrigerate it as soon as possible after cooking, preferably within the hour, and consume within 1-2 days.
Prawns that were cooked before you got them, can be eaten either hot or cold. If you choose to heat them up, ensure that they are piping hot throughout before serving. For safety avoid warming up a dish made from heated, pre-cooked prawns such as a seafood stir fry.
Raw prawns must be cooked before eating and it is safe to store leftovers. Dishes made from cooked, raw prawns can be warmed up as long as the original dish has been handled, cooked and stored correctly (put in the fridge or freezer within 1 hour of cooking and consumed within 1-2 days). You can reheat dishes made from cooked, raw prawns, in the oven, microwave or hob. Ensure they are piping hot before serving and only warm up once.
Plain pasta may be warmed up with no problem at all. It may dry up if heated without adding a little water, but there are no problems with reheated plain pasta.
If the pasta has an accompanying sauce, like spaghetti bolognese, carbonara or lasagna then it is the sauce component that carries more risk than the pasta. You should follow the usual procedures and guidelines as outlined at the start of this article.
For example when warming up lasagna, treat it as if you were reheating minced beef. This means making sure whatever method you use to heat the lasagna that the centre of the dish reaches 75 °C or higher. Then serve immediately while still piping hot.
You can safely warm up pork dishes. Although reheated dishes such as roast pork or pork chops can become tough and dry.
You can safely heat up pork in the microwave, oven or on the hob. Remember as with all reheating of meat products that it’s piping hot throughout before serving.
You can safely warm salmon again. It is important to understand that it is how the salmon was stored after first cooking that is more important really than reheating.
If you are planning on keeping your salmon fillet after cooking it. Then it should be cooled down within an hour of cooking, stored in a fridge and eaten within 2-3 days.
A good method of heating salmon up is to wrap it loosely in tin foil then oven bake it, or even fry it on the hob. As with anything the middle of the salmon should reach 75 °C or higher. Then serve immediately while still piping hot.
Yes, you can heat sausages again. You can use the microwave, hob, oven or BBQ.
Sausages in a sauce (for example a sausage casserole) can also be reheated using a microwave, on the hob or in a slow cooker.
As with most reheating ensure the middle of the sausage reaches 75 °C or higher. Then serve immediately while still piping hot.
Yes, you can warm up an omelette. If you pre-cook an omelette to reheat later, then refrigerate it within 2 hours of cooking and heat it up again in 1-2 days. Omelettes are best reheated by microwave, but you can use the oven, hob or even under the grill.
Warmed up omelettes should be served piping hot and only heated the once.
It is safe to warm up beef or lamb that has been cooked. However meat reheated in the oven can become dry and tough so the best methods are using a microwave or hob.
Warmed up meat probably tastes best when in a sauce. Leftover meats are best used in casseroles or pies.
Meats already in a sauce, like bolognese, are easy to warm up. Just add a little water, heat and stir so that all the dish reaches 75 °C or higher. Then serve straight away.
TIP: Remember that any reheated meat or dish must be heated until it is all at least 75 °C. Preferably only warmed up once and eaten straight away.
You can reheat eggs. However eggs can be cooked in several different ways and not all types of cooked eggs warm up well.
Hard boiled eggs, in their shell or not, can be safely reheated. Place in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them stand for several minutes then eat them.
Never use a microwave to warm up or cook hard boiled eggs. They can explode if you heat them in the microwave.
If you are pre-cooking hard boiled eggs, then you should refrigerate them within 2 hours. Either consume cold or heat up within the week. Do not heat up boiled eggs more than once.
Reheating fried eggs is not recommended. From a food hygiene point of view it is safe to do, but heating them again causes a tough, rubbery texture that is not enjoyable.
Scrambled eggs and omelettes can be reheated see the answer on how to reheat an omelette