Beyond the Takeout Box: Our Guide to Proper Leftover Storage for Your Chinese Food


Dec. 26 2023, Updated 9:52 a.m. ET

Two containers of Chinese food.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Chinese food leftovers can last three to four days in the fridge.
  • Food should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Store leftover Chinese food in airtight containers, not the original takeout container.
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That Kung Pao Chicken you ordered for dinner last night was delicious, but you didn’t finish it all and stuck the rest in your refrigerator. You consider having it for lunch a couple of days later, but is it still good?

How long does Chinese food last in the fridge? Let’s look at how long you can safely keep your Chinese takeout in the fridge, how to store it properly, and when to throw it out.

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A couple eating Chinese food.
Source: Getty Images

How long does Chinese food last in the fridge?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), leftovers stored in your refrigerator can last about three to four days. This is a general rule for Chinese food and any other leftovers you may have.

What’s more important than how many days that food has been in the fridge is how long it sat unrefrigerated and what the internal temperature is of the food, especially when it comes to meat.

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According to Food Safety News, you should never leave perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours, regardless if its leftovers or food you just cooked. If you live somewhere where the temperature is over 90 degrees, you can only leave food out for one hour. So if you ordered food for a party and it sat out a while, you should probably pitch it instead of putting it in the fridge.

Several Chinese food takeout containers.
Source: iStock
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You should also avoid eating food that is stored below 140 degrees. According to the USDA, bacteria are most likely to thrive in food between 40 and 140 degrees.

If you happen to eat leftovers contaminated by bacteria, the best-case scenario is that you get really sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 3,000 people in the U.S. die due to food poisoning. For one unfortunate college student, eating contaminated leftover lo mein caused him to lose his fingers and legs due to sepsis brought on by the contaminated food, the New York Post reported in 2022.

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Can you freeze leftover Chinese food?

Yes, you can freeze leftover Chinese food. That’s probably the smart thing to do if you know you won’t be eating it within three to four days. Foods Guy blogger Jaron Tietsort recommends freezing leftover Chinese food as soon as possible. It should keep well in the freezer for up to three months, Tietsort said.

Leftover containers in a fridge.
Source: iStock

How should you store leftover Chinese food in the fridge?

When storing leftover Chinese food in your fridge, you should avoid leaving it in takeout containers. Instead, leftovers should be stored in airtight containers, per Chinese Foods Recipe. “Cartons or styrofoam trays will allow air flow into the food, increasing bacteria growth, and also making the food stale over time,” the outlet explained.

Leftovers are delicious, just be sure that you take the necessary precautions to ensure you don't make yourself sick.

This article, originally published on Dec. 1, 2023, has been updated.

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