Leeks are delicious, nutritious, and you can prepare them in a variety of ways, from sautéing on the stove to roasting in the oven.
Not like pork chops or chicken cutlets, leeks are a little trickier to portion out. And if you cooked one leek too many, you may be wondering how to store the leftovers and how long they will keep.
For the answers to your questions and the ones you didn’t know you had to ask, read on below.
How Long Can You Keep Cooked Leeks?
Cooked leeks last 1-2 hours at room temperature and 3-4 days in the fridge. Frozen cooked leeks stay safe to eat indefinitely, but they only retain their best quality for 9-12 months.1“Leftovers and Food Safety,” Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/leftovers-and-food-safety
The most important thing when it comes to safely storing cooked leeks is not to keep them at room temperature, which food safety experts call the danger zone.2“How Temperatures Affect Food,” Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/how-temperatures-affect-food, for too long.
Bacteria multiply rapidly in the temperature range of 40°F (4.4°C) to 140°F (60°C) and grow well on cooked leeks. A dozen bacteria on your leftover leeks probably won’t do much harm, but a few hundred can do plenty.
Can Eating Old Cooked leeks Make You Sick?
If you suspect that the cooked leeks have been on your kitchen countertop, dining room table, or in your refrigerator for longer than the times specified above, err on the side of caution and dispose of them.
You can get food poisoning from eating cooked leeks that haven’t been stored properly or that have been kept for too long, even if they look perfectly fine and don’t feel, smell, or taste spoiled.
This is because the pathogenic bacteria that cause food poisoning are not the same as the spoilage bacteria that cause the leeks to spoil. Disease-causing bacteria don’t alter the cooked leeks’ texture, aroma, or flavor in any way, and so they’re virtually undetectable.3“Do spoilage bacteria make people sick?” AskUSDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/Do-spoilage-bacteria-make-people-sick
How to Store Leftover Cooked Leeks
If you made more leeks than you and the family can eat in a single meal, remove them from the heat, allow them to cool down as quickly as possible, then refrigerate or freeze them.
Fridge temperature (40°F/4.4°C or lower) slows down the grown of bacteria on our food, but doesn’t stop it. So use up the cooked leeks within no more than 4 days from refrigeration, or they may become overgrown with bacteria and no longer be safe to eat.
To refrigerate leftover cooked leeks, place them in a ziplock bag or food storage container with the lid closed and store them in the lower compartment of your fridge, where it is coldest.
Freezer temperature (0°F/-18°C or lower) puts all bacterial activity on pause. This means that, technically, frozen cooked leeks stay safe to eat forever. However, they will eventually dry out and lose their texture, aroma, and flavor, so be sure to use them up within 9-12 months.
To freeze leftover cooked leeks, place them in a freezer bag or heavy-duty food storage container with the lid closed and store them in the freezer. Wrapping the leeks loosely in aluminum foil or plastic wrap isn’t enough as they may get freezer-burnt.
How to Tell If Cooked Leeks Are Spoiled
As with all other vegetables, there are some very specific signs you should look for to determine if the leeks you cooked have gone bad.
First, touch the leeks. If they feel sticky and slimy to the touch, then they’re probably spoiled. Second, give them a smell. If you notice any off odors, whether sour or musty, this is also a sign that they’re past their prime.
The last and final sign of spoilage is the taste. If the cooked leeks are unpleasantly bitter or have a funky, unpleasantly weird taste, DO NOT eat them. The problem with spoiled food is that you have no reliable way to tell if it’s safe to eat, so it’s better to just play it safe.
As a general rule of thumb, cooked leeks last:
- 1-2 hours when left out on the kitchen countertop or dining room table
- 3-4 days when properly refrigerated
- 9-12 months when frozen
Cool the leeks down quickly after you’re done cooking them and refrigerate or freeze them, but don’t let them sit out at room temperature. Now, you know the reasons why.
- 1“Leftovers and Food Safety,” Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/leftovers-and-food-safety
- 2“How Temperatures Affect Food,” Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/how-temperatures-affect-food
- 3“Do spoilage bacteria make people sick?” AskUSDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/Do-spoilage-bacteria-make-people-sick