Is it OK for restaurants to recook leftovers?

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What do you think about recooking leftover food?

– Julianne Aboabo, Manager, General Santos City, Calif.


There are many reasons to reduce waste if you can by repurposing leftovers: benefits to your bottom line, the environment and society. But whether you donate leftovers, repurpose them on the menu or feed them to staff, there are two concerns that must be top of mind:

  1. Safety
  2. Quality


As much as I hate food waste, I hate when food unfit for consumption is served more.

The first hurdle is safety. As we’ve discussed before in this column, leftovers can be repurposed if they haven’t left the kitchen (for example, a hotel pan of chicken from a buffet should not be turned into chicken salad tomorrow), were handled properly and held at proper temperatures and are cooled and reheated in a way compliant with health codes. While the exact codes vary, this generally means that the food is quickly chilled to 40 F or lower and reheated to at least 165 F for at least 15 seconds. If any of those standards have not been met, safety takes priority over food waste, and the food should be discarded immediately.

The second consideration is quality. While reheated food may be safe to eat, it may lose quality. While some foods such as sauces do perfectly well quality-wise when chilled and reheated, other foods like proteins and vegetables decline dramatically in quality. While they may be perfectly safe to eat, that does not mean they should be served.

My advice is to never retherm leftovers unless you can be confident that both safety and quality can be maintained. If leftovers are a continued problem, look further at planning to see how they can be prevented:

  • Is your forecasting accurate?
  • Can you make smaller batches more frequently?
  • Would it be acceptable to 86 an item rather than over-preparing?
  • Can you design your menu to plan to cook-chill rather than having unexpected leftovers?


More on managing leftovers here.

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