How Many Times Can You Reheat Food Safely?

June 4, 2021
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Reheating food is an excellent way to reduce food waste, and allow for quick and easy meals throughout the week. It is also a cost effective way of planning and eating meals. Easy and cheap meals for lazy days – sounds foolproof right? While we are correct in saying this, it is important to note that there are guidelines to follow in order to do so in both a foolproof and safe manner. 

If you are reheating food to sell, you must reheat it to an immediate core temperature of at least 75 °C in England or 82 °C in Scotland. You must only reheat food ONCE in these circumstances. This article will provide guidelines for reheating food from home, for personal consumption.  

Many of us cook meals in bulk and then reheat them later. It makes sense to do so from both a time and money perspective, or to use up food before it goes off. Whatever your reasoning, it’s important that you are aware of how to reheat food safely.

Food that is reheated for a second time carries the risk of illness from food poisoning if it is not done so correctly. This article will clarify how many times you can reheat food safely at home, and what foods you need to be particularly careful with.

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If you are a business that is serving food to others and wanting information on the do’s and don’ts of reheating food, then it may be better to have a more thorough awareness of food hygiene. Check out our Level 2 Food Hygiene course for more information.

How Many Times Can You Reheat Food Safely?

Ideally, we should all eat food straight after it has been cooked. This is when it’s at its freshest and likely to taste the best. In terms of food safety, however, so long as you reheat the food at the correct temperature and for the correct duration of time, it can in fact be safely reheated multiple times. However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends that food is only reheated once, so follow this guidance wherever possible.

When you reheat food, you must ensure it is piping hot all the way through. This indicates that you have properly reheated it and the bacteria has been destroyed. Be aware that depending on the food, when you reheat it, each time the quality of it may decrease. This unfortunately means that with foods such as pastries, the consistency or even taste won’t be as good as the first serving. However, with dishes such as slow cooked meats, ragù or chilli, the food chilling will allow flavours to develop and they will reheat very well.

Home-cooked Cannelloni Pasta Dish in Ceramic Dish

Reheating Food Guidelines: How To Reheat Leftovers

Reheating food is safe, however you must be aware that it must be piping hot all the way through and evenly cooked to ensure that it is safe for consumption. 

Reheating Home-Cooked Meals

There are no limits to how many times you can safely reheat leftover home-cooked meals. However, best practice is to limit the number of times you do so. More often than not, you wouldn’t need to reheat one type of dish more than once. If you are  making meals in bulk, separate and store them in individual portions. Doing this typically ensures that they will only need reheating once each.

Can You Reheat Chicken Twice?

Chicken is no different from other meats, and you can reheat it safely two or more times. When you reheat chicken, it is important that you properly heat it the whole way through. Pieces of chicken must be steaming in the middle. If you are reheating a large portion of chicken, check the temperature of the core of the meat. This is the thickest part, and must not be pink or red in colour. Take a look at our Core Temperature of Food article to find out more. 

Can You Reheat Takeaways?

You should be more cautious when eating leftover takeaways as it is unlikely you will know specifically how the food was cooked. For example, it may have already been reheated, or some ingredients may have been cooked separately to the overall dish in advance. 

Chinese takeaway food including noodles and chicken in metal containers

If you are reheating rice, you must be particularly careful. Uncooked rice can contain Bacillus cereus spores that can survive the cooking and reheating processes. Some establishments may have pre-cooked their rice and then reheated it before serving it to customers. It is worth finding out how the takeaway handles and cooks their rice so you can determine for yourself whether it’ll be safe to reheat or not. Rice is safe to eat when it is cold from the fridge, or piping hot all the way through. You must never eat rice that is room temperature, as this is when the bacteria is most prevalent.

Are There Any Foods You Shouldn’t Reheat?

There aren’t necessarily any cooked foods that you should not reheat. However, we do recommend that you are particularly cautious when reheating meat, seafood or rice. If you cool, store, and then reheat these foods properly, they should be safe to eat without the risk of food poisoning.

Once again, it is crucial that all reheated food should be steaming hot all the way through. When storing the food that you plan to reheat, you must make sure that it is cooled down and then stored in the fridge – at a temperature between 2 °C and 5 °C.

The NHS recommends that:

  • You eat all leftovers within two days, at most four days. 
  • If you have them in your fridge after that, the safest option is to dispose of food.
  • If you know in advance that you aren’t going to eat all the leftovers, make sure to freeze them in portions. Click here to learn more on cooking foods from frozen.

You can find more information about how to safely reheat specific foods by reading our article Can You Reheat This?.

Woman in her kitchen at home putting leftover food into plastic containers

How to Reheat Food Safely in the Oven

To reheat food safely in the oven it is best to preheat it properly before putting the food in it. As mentioned, when reheating food, it should reach a temperature of at least 75 °C. You should heat the oven as per the original cooking instructions. Depending on the food this is typically going to be between 160 °C to 220 °C for a domestic oven.

The time it will take for the food to be reheated to a temperature safe for consumption will vary between foods. You should follow the same advice of only eating the food once it is piping hot and visibly producing steam. If you have a temperature probe, use this to check that the food is at least 75 °C.

Despite common misconceptions about what can and can’t be reheated, you should now understand how to safely reheat foods and how many times you can do so. If you do reheat food, make sure the whole dish is steaming hot throughout. While almost all foods can be reheated numerous times, it is best practice to avoid reheating the same meal where possible. Each time food is cooled, stored and reheated, the likelihood of harmful bacteria multiplying increases. If you do end up with leftovers, it is much safer to either freeze them or reheat them just once.

Further Resources:


Food Safety