After all the chopping, mashing and roasting that went into creating your feast, it’s natural to want to take a big fat break before dealing with all of the Thanksgiving leftovers. And why not? You earned it! But unfortunately, food safety waits for nobody. Here’s a quick and handy guide to keep your leftovers safe and ready to enjoy for the next few days or weeks to come.
Follow the Two-Hour Rule
Hot, perishable food that sits out for longer than two hours is considered unsafe to eat and needs to be thrown away. This is because the temperature of the food has most likely been in the food danger zone for too long. This period of time allows for bacteria to rapidly reproduce and contaminate the food. So, if it’s been two hours since the Thanksgiving table was set and there’s still food on it, do not bother bagging it up and putting it in the fridge. Just throw it away.
Take Care when Sending Leftovers Home with Guests
Sending leftovers home with guests is a great way to minimize the amount of refrigerator or freezer space needed by the host. However, the two-hour rule still applies. Consider the amount of travel time your guest has from house to house. If it’s longer than two hours, give them a cooler and some ice to get the food home safely. Better yet, ask them beforehand to come prepared with their own cooler.
Use the Refrigerator or Freezer, or Both
Heaps of turkey and stuffing leftovers call for a dual storage strategy. Here’s how to decide what goes where:
Storing Turkey in the Fridge
Leftover turkey can keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator and still be safe to eat.
Storing Turkey in the Freezer
In the freezer, leftovers should be eaten within 6 months. After this period, it is not safety that suffers, only quality as the food will become more susceptible to freezer burn.
Store Leftovers in Shallow Containers
The faster leftovers can cool, the better, because they spend less time in the Food Danger Zone (40 °F to 140 °F). The best way to decrease the cooling time for leftovers is to store them in shallow pans or containers, which decreases the surface area of the food that needs to cool. Also, leftover turkey should be cut into smaller pieces, to decrease its surface area, too.
Store Stuffing Apart from the Turkey
Sure, stuffing can be cooked inside the turkey, but once cooking is done, that union needs to be broken. If turkey and stuffing are stored together, there is a risk of salmonella bacteria contaminating the stuffing. Storing the items separately in shallow containers is the only way to assure proper food safety.
Make sure you get to enjoy every morsel of your Thanksgiving feast by following these simple tips. It will be worth it when you’re deciding what to make for dinner one night and realize you’ve still got leftovers.
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Illustrations by the talented Roman Martinez for FSW