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After slow-cooking a meal, you may have leftovers. Properly storing those leftovers is important to protect yourself against foodborne bacteria that cause food poisoning. Here you’ll find 5 tips for storing your leftovers properly. 

Store your leftovers as soon as you can. Allow the slow cooker to cool, but don’t let the meal sit at room temperature for more than an hour.  You can store leftovers in your slow cooker in the fridge for 1 to 2 days or in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. 

Basic ingredients Porowskis leftovers
Basic ingredients Porowskis leftovers

Making sure your slow-cooked food is stored correctly can be the difference between having leftovers or having to throw them away.

Let’s see how to properly store your leftovers. And what can happen to your slow cooker if improperly stored and a few tips for food safety and slow cooking in general. 

5 Easy Tips to Store Slow Cooker Leftovers 

Storing your leftovers is important when it comes to avoiding bacteria growth.

Here are 5 tips to help store your meal before and after it’s been cooked.

Keep Ingredients Refrigerated Until Use

Keeping your ingredients in the fridge before you use them will keep them from reaching room temperature and growing bacteria. Remember to thaw frozen ingredients before use. 

Keep Ingredients Separate Until Cooking

If you’re making your meal the night before, don’t combine ingredients until you’re ready to cook them. Meat can contaminate other ingredients and cause bacteria growth

Bacteria

Storing in the Slow Cooker 

After your meal is finished cooking, it can sit in the slow cooker for two hours. It should not be left at room temperature for more than an hour. If you leave the slow cooker on warm, then it can be left for up to 4 hours. Once the slow cooker is cooled, it can be placed in the fridge directly but should not sit for more than 1 to 2 days.

Storing in Airtight Containers 

Store your leftovers in an airtight container to protect the slow cooker pot. Leftovers last for 3 to 4 days in an airtight storage container. 

Refrigerate as Soon as Possible

As soon as your meal is cooled, put it in the fridge. It can only be at room temperature for an hour before the risk of bacteria goes up. Store your leftovers in an airtight container, and if you can’t eat them in 3 to 4 days, place them in the freezer. Do not place the slow cooker pot in the freezer, it could crack. 

Taking Care of Your Slow Cooker

When it comes to your slow cooker, it also needs proper storage and care. Without proper care, the slow cooker pot can break down and become cracked and chipped. Here are a few ways your slow cooker can be damaged and may need to be replaced. 

Handling Your Slow Cooker Harshly 

The rougher you handle your slow cooker, the more likely it is to crack under pressure. Slamming it down on the counter or storing it roughly can break it and make the insert useless. 

The Age of the Insert

Aging appliances tend to break down, and there is really no avoiding it. You can, however, take care of your insert as best as possible to extend the life of the slow cooker.

Factory Issues

Sometimes the manufacturer can mess up and miss a check for a product and when you get it, it’s broken. Luckily there is a warranty for things like this that you can find in the owner’s manual. 

 Changing the Temperature of the Insert 

Quickly placing the slow cooker insert into a different temperature can cause big cracks to form. For example, if you place a warm insert into the freezer, it can crack in your freezer. Wait for the slow cooker to completely cool before placing it in a different environment. 

No Liquid

Sometimes if a meal is overcooked, it can lose all its liquid. This can cause everything to begin to overcook and burn. It’s hard to do in a slow cooker but can happen when there’s not enough liquid. Unfortunately, this can break down the slow cooker insert.  

Using the Insert on the Stovetop

The ceramic insert of some slow cookers can be placed on the stovetop to sear meats and vegetables. This however begins to break down the insert because of the rapid temperature change on the bottom of the insert.  

Slow Cooking Food Safety Tips

There has been mention in this article of bacteria growth in foods. This happens when food is not properly handled and can cause food poisoning. Here are a few tips to keep your food safe.

Plan Out Your Meal 

When slow cooking, you need to make sure you know exactly what you’re making. Take all frozen ingredients out to thaw the night before. Prep everything you need to beforehand so you can cut down on your prep time.  

Have an Open and Clean Workspace 

Prep all of your ingredients in a clean space to avoid bacteria growth on your ingredients. Use the slow cooker on an open space like your countertop. Don’t put the slow cooker too close to the electrical outlet.   

Refrigerate Ingredients Until Using 

Keep your ingredients in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. If foods stay at room temperature for too long, they can begin to grow food poisoning causing bacteria.  

Keep Ingredients Separate During Prep

When preparing meat and vegetables, keep them separate until they’re ready to cook them. The meat can contaminate vegetables if they are prepped together.  

Cut Meats Evenly

It takes thicker meats longer to cook and they can cook unevenly. To fix this, cut the larger chunks of meat into smaller even pieces. This will ensure that all the pieces cook evenly and it doesn’t prolong your cooking time. 

Overstuffing the Slow Cooker

For best results, you should only fill a slow cooker ½ to ¾ of the way full. Overfilling your slow cooker can make the slow cooker spill and can ruin the slow cooker. Liquid on the heating elements can short them out and then your slow cooker won’t work. Overfilling can also cause the foods to cook unevenly.  

Leave the Lid in Place 

Removing the lid from your slow cooker too early can drop the internal temperature of your meal. It can take 30 more minutes for the slow cooker to return to the right temperature. This can prolong your cooking time and even cause uneven cooking. The lid should remain on unless you need to add something like pasta near the end of the cooking time. 

Have a Food Safe Thermometer on Hand 

Having a food-safe thermometer comes in handy for checking the internal temperature of your food. They can also be used to check your slow cooker when you’re not sure if it’s working correctly. 

Delicate Foods in the Slow Cooker

Not every recipe agrees with a slow cooker, and there are foods that either need more care or shouldn’t go in a slow cooker at all.

Here is a small list of a few of the more delicate foods and things that shouldn’t go in the slow cooker at all.

Thinner and Lean Meats

Thinner cuts of meat like chicken breast can cook in the slow cooker much quicker than thicker cuts. They have more of a chance to be overcooked in a slow cooker without enough liquid. 

Strong Herbs and Spices

Slow cookers are a great way to bring out the natural flavors of a meal, but this means if you’re using fresh herbs or stronger spices, they become stronger. They can easily overpower a meal if added in the beginning. Add these near the end so the meal isn’t affected.

Soft Vegetables 

Leafy greens and softer vegetables like tomatoes and kale have a tendency to become mush in a slow cooker. This can be great for things like soup, but you’re not going to want that for every meal. To prevent this add them near the end. 

Cooking Alcohol

Cooking wines add a robust flavor to a meal, but unfortunately, they don’t pair well with slow cooker meals. This is because the wine can’t cook off. So instead of adding that great flavor, you’re left with a mess. 

Bacon

If you want crispy bacon in your meal then you’re going to have to cook it separately. Bacon adds a great flavor in the slow cooker but doesn’t get crispy. It gets broken down and mushy. 

Pasta and Rice

Pasta and rice become a mushy mess when cooked for too long. This can change the texture of the entire meal. Either cook them separately or add them near the end of the cooking process.  

Dairy Products

Most dairy products will curdle in a slow cooker. This changes the texture of your meal. To avoid this, dairy needs to be stirred frequently, or use a different type of dairy for cooking, or add it near the end. 

Some Disadvantages to Using a Slow Cooker

There are many reasons for wanting to slow cook, but there are also some reasons to not want to. They aren’t the perfect appliance at all times. Here are some of the main disadvantages to using a slow cooker. 

Cooks Slowly 

Slow cookers are called that because they cook meals for hours. If you’re in the mood for something quick then using a slow cooker is not a good choice.  

Ruin Meals Easily

One mistake with a slow cooker meal can ruin the entire thing. Not adding enough liquid can easily have a meal dry and bland. Adding too many spices in the beginning can give you an overpowered meal. 

Condensation Leads to Dilution  

Condensation builds up on a slow cooker lid. This is normal, but it can drip back into your meal and dilute the meal. This can leave meals tasting bland instead of flavorful. 

Using Uncooked Beans

Beans are a tricky ingredient. If you buy them dry, then you will need to boil them before you ever put them in the slow cooker. This is because they have a toxic element in them until they are boiled. Using canned beans makes this easier, but beans in bulk are cheaper than canned ones. This adds an extra step to slow cooking your meal.   

Overpowering Flavors  

As mentioned before, fresh herbs and strong spices become stronger in a slow cooker. They can easily overwhelm a meal if they are added too soon. Having strong flavors in your slow-cooked meals can be great, but when a certain spice takes over the whole meal, it can be a disaster.    

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Leave Stew in a Slow Cooker Overnight?

If you are cooking the stew overnight then yes you can leave it. It’s recommended that the longer you cook a stew in a slow cooker the better your flavors will be. You can also leave stew in the slow cooker to cool overnight and then refrigerated immediately after. 

How Long is Food Safe in a Slow Cooker?

In a warm setting, food is safe for between 2 and 4 hours. If the slow cooker is cooling, the food inside the cooking pot should not be left at room temperature for more than an hour. Past these times foods are left at dangerous temperatures that bacteria can grow, which may cause food poisoning. 

Can I Reheat Food in the Slow Cooker?

No, you can’t use a slow cooker to reheat your food. Slow cookers take too long to reach safe temperatures for refrigerated foods to be considered safe. It is recommended that slow-cooked foods be reheated in either the oven, stovetop, or in the microwave. 

Final Thoughts

Keeping your slow-cooked food safe after you’ve spent hours cooking it is important to avoid food poisoning bacteria from growing. Use an airtight container to keep food safe and store for 3 to 4 days, and if you need it longer, place it in the freezer. Hopefully, this article encourages you to slow-cook with confidence.  

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