Is ordering takeout a smart money move or a waste? Depends on what you do next.
If you’re the type to order heaps of Chinese food, enjoy it for one meal, then toss it a week later when you discover it wedged in the back of the fridge, you’re definitely not getting your money’s worth. (And you’re not alone: Americans throw away an average of $1,600 worth of a food a year.)
But armed with the right info and intentions, you can make some takeout last for days—potentially making it a good use of your monthly food budget and giving you a break from cooking. Just choose carefully.
Order it and eat it, says Marianne H. Gravely, a specialist for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. It’ll get sticky or slimy fast, she says. And while eating day-old sushi is unlikely to make you sick, it’s probably not going to taste great.
If you really want to satisfy a next-day craving, choose something without raw ingredients, like a California roll, suggests Mary Saucier Choate, a food safety field specialist at the University of New Hampshire Extension.
The greens in dressed salads will wilt after about a day. Fortunately, you can easily make it last longer by ordering dressing on the side, Gravely says. Clean, chopped greens can last three or four days in the fridge.
A sandwich probably won’t be edible (from a taste perspective) for longer than a day or two because the bread will get soggy, says Graveley. If you’re hoping to squeeze an extra day out of it, going condiment free is your best bet. If it’s a burger or hot sandwich, deconstruct it before microwaving to preserve the bread and veggies.
If you just keep the cooked burger patty, though, it can last in the fridge for up to three or four days, and you can safety freeze it for two to three months, Choate says.
For max takeout longevity, avoid seafood, which gets slimy after a day. Your food will be nosh-worthy for about three days if you choose lo mein, beef and broccoli and other noodle dishes, Gravely says. Rice tends to get crunchy, so she recommends covering it while microwaving to retain the moisture.
While your taco salad won’t last more than a day, a quesadilla or burrito will fare better. If they’ve been properly refrigerated—that is, within two hours of ordering them—soft shells, rice, beans and meats will keep in the fridge for three or four days, Choate says.
Contrary to what many seem to think, the pizza box itself doesn’t have any magical powers for keeping food safe, Gravely says. But if refrigerated properly—within two hours—pizza without seafood toppings should be safe and tasty for four days. After that, not only will it taste more like the cardboard box it came in, but bacteria can start to grow.
Eyeing that whole chicken at Boston Market or your supermarket deli? Good choice, Gravely says. She recommends deboning it while it’s hot and storing the leftovers in a smaller container to allow for proper cooling in the fridge. (When you stick a lot of hot food in the fridge too soon, it can raise the fridge’s overall temp and put your other food at risk for bacterial growth.)