Things to know before reheating food

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Food poisoning is, at best, an unpleasant illness that puts you out of action for a few days. At worst, it can be life-threatening. The majority of people will recover fully from the symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps, but some can be left with serious health problems.

One cause of food poisoning is bacteria that have had the opportunity to multiply in food. The bacteria either multiply to sufficient numbers to make us ill or they produce poisons in the food that can cause illness. Cooking food thoroughly, cooling and reheating it rapidly, and ensuring food is at the correct temperature before eating can all help to prevent the bacteria from multiplying.

A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises us to keep these five points in mind when reheating food.

1. Use the right equipment and preheat it
Make sure your oven, grill or microwave is working correctly, and make sure to preheat your oven or grill to a hot enough temperature. If they’re too cool when you pop the food in, your dinner will take significantly longer to get up to a safe temperature, and may take longer than the recommended reheating time.

2. Stir food when using a microwave
Using a microwave? Follow the instructions to the letter, taking special note of advice on standing and stirring. If it’s a dish you made yourself, always stir regularly when reheating to make sure the food is the same temperature all the way through. Microwaving food can leave ingredients very hot round the edges but cold in the middle, stirring helps it heat evenly throughout. It’s disappointing when you’ve sat down to enjoy a nice warm bowl of soup and you hit a cold spot with the first spoonful.

3. Only reheat meat once
The FSA says it’s safe to reheat meat in a microwave, but you should only do it once. Smaller pieces are easier to heat more evenly, and be sure it’s hot all the way through before eating. You can, however, safely cook defrosted meat into a new meal and then freeze it. For example, you can defrost mince for a pasta sauce, and then refreeze it in order to reheat and eat another day.

4. Be really careful with rice
Put rice in the fridge and consume within 24 hours. You can get food poisoning from eating reheated rice – it’s not the reheating that causes the problem, but the way the rice has been stored before reheating. Uncooked rice can contain spores of a bacterium called bacillus cereus, which can survive being cooked and cause food poisoning. When you reheat any rice, always check it’s steaming hot all the way through.

“Leftover rice should be cooled down quickly and kept in the fridge for no more than one day until reheating. The longer cooked rice is left at room temperature, the more likely it is that the bacteria or toxins will make the rice unsafe to eat,” says the FSA.

If the rice is from a takeaway, check how it’s been handled if you’re planning to eat some the next day, but best to eat it immediately on arrival – it is likely to have been pre-cooked and reheated once already.

5. Serve immediately
Don’t hesitate when it comes to jumping in with a fork. Reheated food should be served straight away unless you are holding it at 63°C (145°F) or above for a maximum of two hours. Delay serving your reheated meal and the risk of food poisoning increases significantly, as there is time for harmful bacteria to grow.

How should you reheat food?
As a general rule, use the same method to reheat the food as you used to cook it. If you have the time, slowly reheating food helps it to retain flavour and texture more than a blast in the microwave. Dry, crisp foods retain their texture best in the oven, and a wok or frying pan over a high heat works wonders to reheat stir-fry, shredded chicken or thinly sliced veg. That said, dishes such as curry or chilli can be just as good heated in the microwave, just pop in a tablespoon or so of extra water or stock to stop it drying out.

Should I use cling wrap or foil?
You can use most cling wrap and plastics in the microwave, just make sure you use them as instructed. It’s useful when reheating grains such as rice, or other foods that have a large surface area, and can keep foods from drying out. Loosely cover the plate and avoid the cling film coming in contact with the food while cooking to be on the safe side.

You should never use foil in the microwave, but it can help reheated food retain its moisture in the oven. Remove the foil halfway through the reheating time to allow it to crisp up where you want it to. This is a particularly good trick for dishes with breadcrumbs or lots of cheese, such as fish pie or pasta bake.

Avoid overcooking
Heat foods of a similar density at the same time. A large piece of meat will take longer to reheat than a few stalks of broccoli so reheat food in stages to avoid overcooking. Add ingredients to the plate one at a time, starting with the part of the meal that takes the longest to reheat.

Check the temperature
Use a thermometer to check that your food is fully reheated. Stick the instant-read probe into the thickest part of the food to take the core temperature. This avoids all the guesswork and greatly reduces the risk of contamination.

Pizza
Reheat pizza in a dry frying pan or cast-iron skillet. Simply pre-heat the pan and drop the pizza in. The hot pan will warm the crust through while keeping it crispy. Heat until the tomato sauce is piping hot and the cheese is oozing.

Chicken
Roast chicken can be reheated as part of a new dish such as risotto or curry, or you can pan-fry it at high heat to make it crispy. Always ensure it is hot all the way through, with an internal temperature of at least 74°C (165°F). Chicken also reheats well covered in foil and placed in a medium oven.

Fish
It’s easy to overcook fish when reheating it. Cook it until the internal temperature is between 54°C and 63°C (130°F and 145°F). Thin, breaded fish is best reheated under the grill, whereas white fish is best recooked in a sauce to keep it moist, or wrapped loosely in foil and reheated in a low oven. At its best, the fish should easily flake when touched with a fork.

What do you do with your leftovers? How comfortable are you with reheating food?

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Written by Ellie Baxter



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