Why do leftovers smell bad?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “why do leftovers smell bad

?” and types of leftover based on the intensity of risk of spoilage.

Why do leftovers smell bad?

Leftovers smell as they’ve been chilled for an extended time or because they have been exposed to the elements and are deteriorating. You may keep leftovers in the refrigerator for up to three days.

If they are kept out on the dining room table for an extended length of time, they may begin to degrade. In this case, keep them on hand for one day only.

Rotting odors may have a range of flavors based on the spoilage microbe and the food that has been spoiled or damaged. It has a strawberry-like odor due to the presence of Pseudomonas fragi bacteria in dairy products. Yeasts produce sulfur chemicals that are comparable to those produced by humans when they fart. During the process of destroying food, mold produces a musty, earthy odor.

How to Determine Whether Leftovers Are Safe?

As a first step, look for mold, textural changes, or unpleasant odors that are immediately noticeable. Then there’s the issue of time and temperature. Food has an expiration date on it. The freezers in the United States are still kept at hazardous levels, which prevents bacterial growth in 25 percent of cases (above 40 degrees F). Keep an eye on the temperature of your refrigerator regularly and adjust the settings as needed to prevent food from deteriorating.

Ensure leftovers hit 40 degrees Fahrenheit in two hours after being removed from the refrigerator. To avoid the danger of damaging your refrigerator or freezer, an ice bath is the best option. Because some meals last longer than others, we’ve split the maximum amount of time you may safely eat these leftovers into two categories.

Leftovers Types

The shelf life of foods varies depending on how they are prepared, stored, and what they are made of.

Lower risk foods

Fruits and vegetables

Before consuming any raw fruits or vegetables, be sure they have been properly washed in clean water.

Fresh fruit that has been washed and sliced will typically last 3–5 days in the refrigerator.

After cooking, leftover vegetables may be kept in the refrigerator for 3–7 days after being prepared. Cooked vegetables, such as beans or other legumes, may be preserved for up to 7–10 days by canning them.

Kale, potatoes, and bananas, for example, lose their freshness more quickly than other water-dense fruits and vegetables.

This may be used to either speed up or slow down the time before eating the food before it is served.


Bread is likewise considered to be low-risk.

Store-bought bread will last for five to seven days at room temperature, while handmade bread would only last for three days at the same temperatures. Only fresh bread should be consumed.

Refrigerating bread increases its shelf life by 3–5 days, but the quality of the bread decreases with time.

Medium risk foods

Cooked pasta or grains such as barley or quinoa may be stored for up to three days.

They may be frozen for up to three months after they have been cooked.

Desserts may be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days.

Higher risk foods

When foods are high in protein and moisture, they encourage the development of specific bacteria, increasing the likelihood of getting food poisoning.

Rice is an exception because it may contain spores of the bacteria Bacillus cereus. The toxins produced by these bacteria have the potential to cause foodborne illness.

Rice should be refrigerated immediately after cooking and used within 3 days after preparation.

Chicken or Meat

When cooked to a safe temperature, ground beef and chicken may be stored in the refrigerator for 1–2 days at or below 41°F (5°C).

Foods such as steaks, fillets, chops, and roasts may be stored in the refrigerator for 3–4 days. Defrosting frozen meals should always be done in the refrigerator rather than on the countertop. Prepare the meal within 2 days.

You may thaw food in the microwave, but it should be consumed right away.

Deli meat that has been opened should be consumed within 3–5 days. Cold deli salads should be consumed within 3–5 days (e.g. egg, tuna, or chicken).

Seafood and Eggs

Eggs may potentially contain Salmonella, which increases the likelihood of becoming ill. Hard-boiled eggs should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days before eating.

Shellfish and fish are especially hazardous due to the possibility of containing diseases and toxins such as histamine. Fresh fish should be consumed within three days after purchase.

Soups and stews may be kept refrigerated for 3–4 days if prepared ahead of time.

Meals at a restaurant vs meals prepared at home

Restaurant leftovers are difficult to judge since you have no way of knowing how fresh they were before being served.

These leftovers should be consumed within 3–4 days after being prepared.

If it contains raw fish or vegetables, it should be eaten within 24 hours after preparation.


In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “why do leftovers smell bad

?” and types of leftover based on the intensity of risk of spoilage.



Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.