How long does food last?

May 2014: The truth is that most food keeps far longer than we think! Here’s what good cooks do—if they don’t grow the food themselves; they shop once – maybe twice – a week for fresh ingredients. If you go early in the mornings you will see so many great cooks buying fresh ingredients in the local farmers markets. Then, they cook during the week with what they have on hand; and save the excess to turn into another dish later in the week.

After all, what is Salade Nicoise?  Salade Nicoise is not just a tuna salad from the Mediterranean—it is leftover vegetables made into a salad with tuna.  Get it?  A good cook in the South of France will make extra boiled potatoes and blanched green beans one night so that they can make a delicious salad later in the week.  For years,  we cooking teachers have been showing people how to make things like Arancini (deepfried risotto balls) by starting with making the risotto; or Ribolita (a bean casserole from Tuscany) by starting by making the bean soup; or Grilled Polenta by starting with making the polenta.  This is all wrong!  All of these dishes are made when you plan ahead to make excess risotto or excess minestrone or excess polenta and you store the excess to turn into another dish later the week.  Ribolitto is really leftover minestrone layered with leftover bread and grated cheese.  A good cook doesn’t start by making Bread Pudding—a good cook starts by having leftover bread.  Get it?

Here’s another truth!  Statistics tells us that most home cooks start thinking about what to have dinner around 5 p.m. the same night.  They may stop off at the store, then cook and serve dinner, and then discard the leftovers.  Why do leftovers have such a bad name?  The reason is because we are afraid if we don’t serve the exact same thing within a day or two, it will go bad.  Well, this just isn’t true.  Food doesn’t go bad that quickly, and there are so many things you can do with planned leftovers to make it into something quite different and appealing.  See my 2009 Newsletter for recipe ideas with planned leftover food.

Here’s advice from Tante Marie!  If it doesn’t smell bad, don’t throw it out!  Cooked chicken will keep for a week in the fridge.  Cooked seafood keeps for three days, cooked meat for five days.  Eggs keep for months in the fridge.  Dairy will keep for weeks after the sell-by date.  Butter keeps six to nine months in the freezer before it starts to lose flavour.  In fact, all foods keep for at least a year in the freezer.  Although it is recommended to recycle canned goods after they have been in your cupboard for a year, they will keep much longer.  The same is true of bottled spices; however, but they do lose colour and taste after a year.  Whole grains and legumes keep a very long time in the cupboard.  So, does dried pasta.   How about this?  Once a month, plan to make a soup with the aging vegetables in your fridge and add grains, beans, and/or dried pasta from the cupboard.  See my Turkey Chile Soup Recipe if you need one.   However, it is important to remember if you have a soup or casserole in the fridge for five days made with chicken, veal, or beef stock, it should be put in a pan and boiled for 5 minutes, then put in a clean container and chilled again—it was stay fresh another five days.  Then, you can boil it up and chill it again.  Remember, there’s nothing wrong with freezing soups and casseroles for another time.

We live in a world where we read more and more about people sickened by contaminated foods.  It’s just the media being alarmist.  Of course, people can get very sick from things like poorly processed chicken and mass produced ground beef that is mixed and shipped all over the world.  And, the worst is when a cook in a restaurant does not keep his or her hands clean.   However, a person who wants to provide good healthy meals for their friends and family should buy responsibly—hopefully from the person who grows the food—cook it well—and plan to make more meals with the excess—not throw it out.   It is much easier to say what shall we have for dinner?” when good healthful ingredients are in the cupboard and refrigerator. Remember, cooking is fun — especially if you plan to turn leftover food into another meal.  If you have any questions or comments, please email me at and do check out the many delicious recipes and fun videos

Here for you is a wonderful do-ahead hearty salad you can make with what you buy at the Farmers Market!  It is inspired by the fabulous team of cookbook authors, caterers, and restaurateurs in London called OTTOLENGHI – have fun!