Pizza Food Safety: Handling Leftovers and Health Safety

Often, when most people think about their next meal, the options seem to be endless. After a long day, most people crave a simple and easy meal that will satiate their empty bellies. Pizza tends to be a food that many people gravitate towards, whether it’s through take-out, delivery, or even a homemade recipe. So, it’s really no secret that pizza is one of the most popular foods in the United States. In fact, 40% of Americans eat pizza at least once a week. With a variety of different styles and how easily accessible it is, pizza has become one of America’s favorite foods. 

However, despite how beloved it is, many people and restaurants may overlook the safety behind this meal, including the preparation and handling of it afterward. In one of our previous articles, we discussed the importance of health and safety when ordering takeout. In this article, we will cover why pizza food safety is important and how to safely handle pizza, whether it be the cooking process, ordering takeout/delivery, or dealing with leftovers. 

Leftover Food Safety

Storing leftover pizza may not seem like such a difficult task. Just put the box in a dry place where no bugs or pets can reach it, right? Actually, handling leftover pizza can be considered a case-by-case situation. Surprisingly, it all comes down to the toppings. To most, pizza is just pizza; however, having diced tomatoes or pepperoni on your leftover pizza may make or break how edible it is after a couple of days. 

For example, day-old cheese pizza left out of the fridge is considered “low risk” because bread and baked cheese are both too dry to be friendly to germs and the acidity of the tomato sauce keeps bacteria in check. However, it’s not guaranteed that you won’t get sick after eating it. There’s a lot of speculation over different toppings that can be left out, such as pepperoni vs. buffalo chicken, but why take that risk? Taking a couple of seconds out of your day to put the pizza in the fridge will make a world of a difference. 

Another question to ask yourself is how long can a pizza sit in your fridge before it goes bad? Some food safety experts claim that pizza can be left refrigerated for up to four days, but usually, three days is the recommended amount of time. After the four-day mark, bacteria can begin to form which makes the consumer vulnerable to food poisoning. Putting your pizza in the fridge is important if you want to enjoy it later on without any consequences. Though it might seem insignificant, there are ways to store your pizza with greater efficiency than just tossing it onto a shelf. 

leftover pizza is good for four days if refrigerated
Storing Leftover Pizza

Usually, when you leave pizza in the fridge, it’s easy to just leave the leftovers in the box and place it on the shelf for easy access. But, this method is highly UNrecommended, since leaving the pizza in the cardboard will dehydrate it quicker due to the air freely circulating around in the box. 

The best way to put pizza in the fridge is to layer the slices onto a plate, wrapping or covering them with wax, foil, or parchment paper, alternating every level (slice and then paper and then another slice, etc.). After, you can wrap the whole stack with plastic wrap and place it in your fridge. Granted this method is more time-consuming than just carelessly leaving your pizza in the box, but it’s guaranteed to leave you with a tastier leftover meal. 

Another way to store leftover pizza is to freeze them. By leaving your pizza in a freezer and having it frozen at 0°F, it will keep the pizza safe indefinitely. Though the quality of the pizza will be best maintained for around 1-2 months after freezing, it will still remain safe beyond that time. Pizza that is thawed or microwaved after freezing should be eaten immediately; however, pizza that is thawed in the fridge can be kept there for up to four days before cooking and eating.

Reheating your leftover pizza is simple, as long as you follow the correct steps to storing it properly. Some people enjoy their pizza cold, but heating your leftovers properly will allow for a better eating experience. For a refrigerated pizza, heating it up in the microwave, an oven, or even an iron skillet are different methods for a quick and easy meal. However, for a frozen pizza, it’s all about starting out cold, keeping the temperature at medium-high, and not removing the lid or any covering for any reason until it’s done. This will maintain the quality of the pizza, even after days and weeks.

Bacteria and Foodborne Illnesses

So, why is handling pizza so important? To some, it may seem like we’ve blown a simple task out of proportion. But, there is a method to the madness. If not managed properly, leftover pizza is vulnerable to bacteria growth, which can lead to potential food poisoning. For example, if your pizza has been left sitting out for more than two hours, it isn’t safe to eat. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), all perishable foods, which includes pizza, “are not safe to eat after sitting at room temperature for many hours.” 

One important fact to know is the bacteria “danger zone”. Essentially, bacteria will start to grow very slowly at temperatures below 40°F, but will quickly multiply at temperatures between 40°F and  140°F. They are then able to be destroyed at temperatures above 140oF. So, leaving food out improperly at room temperature for a long period of time will increase bacteria growth. 

bacteria will grow in the danger zone of 40 degrees - 140 degrees fahrenheit

This can cause foodborne illnesses, which can begin as early as shortly after and as late as weeks after consuming contaminated pizza. Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. Some people are more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses as well. ​​Typically young children, pregnant women, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to food poisoning than others. Getting sick from one of your favorite foods is not something that you want to experience; that’s why it’s so imperative to take a couple of minutes out of your day to make sure that you’re handling your leftover pizza properly. 

Small Details Matter

Food safety isn’t just a concern for cooks and restaurants. Everyone is a consumer of food, so it’s a personal responsibility to make sure that your meals and snacks are safe to eat. Taking those extra steps of precaution will not only ensure a better eating experience and higher quality meals, but it also helps to prevent any health issues.

The popularity of pizza will only continue to grow because of how easy it is to access it through takeout, delivery, or making it yourself, not to mention how good it tastes! However, many people will disregard how they handle it after the meal is over, carelessly leaving it out on the table to snack on later. Being more careful about how you store not only pizza, but any other leftovers you may have is key to a safe and high-quality meal for the next couple of days. The actions may seem small, but the details are important and will make the biggest difference.