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Food Safety: Does Leftover Pizza Really Need the Fridge?

Posted in Food Safety on October 14, 2019

Growing up I saw both ends of the food safety spectrum. My Mom was very quick to get leftovers put away and so was my maternal grandmother. Other family members were more relaxed with leaving things out for long periods of time, especially leftover pizza which I always thought was pretty strange. Let’s delve into leftover pizza food safety.

Leftover Pizza Food Safety

A food safety expert says that day old cheese pizza left out of the fridge is considered “low risk” but still doesn’t guarantee that it won’t make you sick…. Or worse.

What is this information based on though? It all comes down to toppings.  Benjamin Chapman, food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, says that people don’t end up getting sick from unrefrigerated pizza often enough for it to be an issue on public health radar.

Why not? “It all comes down to water activity,” Chapman says. Bread and baked cheese are both too dry to be friendly to germs. Tomato sauce has some moisture, but its acidity probably keeps bacteria in check.

Toppings change the calculus, though. If you order your pizza with nice juicy diced tomatoes on top, that’s the one that should go in the fridge.

Speculation that pepperoni can hold up because it is often sold at room temperature anyway seems legit to me, but other toppings I am not so sure about. What about other meats? Some people love Italian sausage, buffalo chicken, bacon, etc myself included. Scientists say this all boils down to water. How would an average home chef know that the water has been baked out of the meats and other toppings? The answer is simply that we wouldn’t know.

Why take the risk? It literally just takes minutes to toss the pizza box into the fridge or put it into some storage containers. But here is the next question: How long should the pizza be left in the fridge before it needs to be tossed out if no one has eaten it? Food Network chimes in on this one saying that leftover pizza can be left in the fridge for up to 4 days, but 3 days is recommended. They believe after that bacteria can begin to form which will lead to the potential of food poisoning.

How to Store Leftover Pizza

EverydayCheapskate gives us some great tips other than the usual leave it in the box or toss it into some storage containers and go.

No one wants to see their hard earned money go down the drain so why waste money by wasting leftovers? The best way to store leftover pizza is NOT to leave it in the box and shove the whole thing in the refrigerator. The cardboard and air freely circulating around the slices will dehydrate them in a big hurry.

The best way is to stack and wrap: Place a single layer of slices on a dinner plate, top with a layer of wax, freezer, foil, or parchment paper, and keep stacking, alternating pizza and paper, until all the pizza’s on the plate. Wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. That’s it! It’s not as easy as just throwing the box in the fridge, but you’ll end up with tastier leftover pizza to reheat.

You can also freeze leftover pizza.

  • How long does leftover pizza last in the freezer? Properly stored, it will maintain best quality for about 1 to 2 months, but will remain safe beyond that time.
  • The freezer time shown is for best quality only – leftover pizza that has been kept constantly frozen at 0°F will keep safe indefinitely.
  • How long does leftover pizza last after being frozen and thawed? Leftover pizza that has been thawed in the fridge can be kept for an additional 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator before cooking; pizza that was thawed in the microwave or in cold water should be eaten immediately.

Going a step further how should we reheat leftover pizza? I know many people who just grab a slice from the fridge and eat it cold. I am not one of those people. I prefer to have mine at least warm, but usually piping hot. Some people settle for the microwave which can often leave us with a case of really soggy crust while others use a baking sheet and preheat the oven. went further though and involved a cast iron skillet.

This is not difficult as long as you know up front that your most important ingredient here is patience. Just follow these steps precisely and I promise you will have a crisp bottom crust, hot melted cheese and no sign whatsoever that it was made the day before.

Step 1: Place one or two slices in the cold skillet crust side down.

Step 2: Put a lid on the skillet.

Step 3: Set skillet on a stovetop burner set on medium-high heat.

Step 4: Set timer for eight minutes.

Step 5: Wait, and do not peek or remove that lid for any reason. Just don’t.

That’s it! No need to add water or oil, or flip the slices, or do any other thing you may be wondering about. It’s all about keeping the temperature at medium-high and not removing the lid for any reason until it’s done.


Let frozen leftover pizza thaw on the countertop for at least an hour, or defrost it in the microwave, and then follow the instructions above.

Reheating pizza properly is all about starting out cold, keeping the temperature at medium-high and not removing the lid for any reason until it’s done

At the end of the day leftover pizza isn’t something that happens very often here, but by following the advice in this article we will be able to safely keep the leftovers when the rare event happens.

By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)