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Leftovers are the uneaten edible remains of a meal after everyone has finished eating. Food scraps that are not directly edible (such as bones or the skins of some vegetables and fruits) are not regarded as leftovers, but rather as waste material. Some only use "leftovers" to refer to extra food that constitutes a meal by itself, not just portions of the original (side-dishes, garnishments, etc.).
The ultimate use of leftovers depends on where the meal was eaten, preferences of the diner, and the prevailing social culture. People often save home cooking leftovers to eat later. This is facilitated by the private environment and convenience of airtight containers and refrigeration. People may eat some leftover food cold from the refrigerator, or reheated it in a microwave or conventional oven, or mix it with additional ingredients and recooked to make a new dish.
New dishes made from leftovers are common in world cuisine. People invented many such dishes before refrigeration and reliable airtight containers existed. Besides capturing nutrition from otherwise inedible bones, stocks and broths provide a base for leftover scraps too small to be a meal themselves. Casseroles, paella, fried rice, Shepherd pies, and pizza can also be used for this purpose, and may even have been invented as a means of reusing leftovers. Among American university students, leftover pizza itself has acquired particular in-group significance, to the extent that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service offers, as its first tip under "Food Safety Tips for College Students" by Louisa Graham, a discussion of the considerable risks of eating unrefrigerated pizza.
At some holiday meals, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving in the United States, it is customary to prepare much more food than necessary, specifically so the host can send leftovers home with guests. Cold turkey is archetypal in the United States as a Thanksgiving leftover, with turkey meat often reappearing in sandwiches, soups, and casseroles for several days after the feast.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese cuisine gained a foothold in the United States with the opening of several chop suey restaurants. There is no set history of how American diners became enamored of "chop suey"—which means "assorted pieces" or "miscellaneous leftovers"—although it is unlikely that actual leftovers were served at any chop suey restaurants.
Diners in a restaurant may leave uneaten food for the restaurant to discard, or take it away for later consumption. To take the food away, the diner might request a container, or ask a server to package it. Such a container is colloquially called a doggy bag or doggie bag. This most likely derives from the euphemistic pretense that the diner plans to give the food to a pet, rather than eat it. Some also speculate the name was born during World War II when food shortages encouraged people to limit waste, and also, pet food was scarce. However, it may derive from the East Anglian term docky, meaning lunch. The term doggy bag was popularized in the 1970s etiquette columns of many newspapers. Doggy bags are most common in restaurants that offer a take-out food service as well as sit-down meals, and their prevalence as an accepted social custom varies widely by location. In some countries, especially in continental Europe, some people would frown upon a diner asking for a doggy bag.
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- Smith, Andrew F., ed. (2004). Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. 1. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 194.. "With the addition or subtractions of leftovers or inexpensive cuts of meat, the casserole is flexible and economical in terms of both ingredients and effort." (As quoted in Olver, Lynne (2007-06-03). "Food Timeline history notes: ambrosia to corn bread". The Food Timeline. Retrieved 2007-06-05.)
- Olver, Lynne (2006-08-06). "Food Timeline--history notes: Asian-American cuisine". Retrieved 2007-06-05.
Fried rice and noodle dishes with vegetables are likewise ancient. They were typically composed of leftover ingriedents and cooked in woks.
- Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, 1861.
- Cassell's New Universal Cookery Book by Lizzie Heritage published by Cassell and Company, 1894
- "Food Safety Tips for College Students". 16 June 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
Perishable food should never be left out of refrigeration more than 2 hours. This is true even if there are no meat products on the pizza. Foodborne bacteria that may be present on these foods grow fastest in the "Danger Zone" (temperatures between 40 and 140 °F) and can double in number every 20 minutes.
- "Cold pizza: friend or foe? Food safety in your residence hall". Georgetown University Health Education Services. 2003. Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
If a food has been out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, then it is considered unsafe and should be thrown out.
- "doggy bag". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. Retrieved 2007-06-05.
- "Docky Bag". University of Cambridge: Museums and Collections. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
- "The partial triumph of the doggy bag". Retrieved 2010-09-21.
- BBC - Doggy bag: Why are the British too embarrassed to ask? Retrieved 2013-03-26