After Thanksgiving dinner, it's time to deal with the all the leftovers. Although you may be tempted to let the leftovers sit out for easy snacking, that's not a good idea.
After Thanksgiving dinner, it’s time to deal with the all the leftovers. Although you may be tempted to let the leftovers sit out for easy snacking, that’s not a good idea. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, making your food a prime target for contamination. About 1 in 6 people get sick from a foodborne illness each year; don’t let your food cause your guests to become ill.
Bacteria doesn’t always alter the flavor, scent or appearance of food, so the only sure way to be safe is to follow some basic rules.
1. Cook your food to the proper temperatures. Turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees at the thigh and 165 degrees for the breast and stuffing.
2. If you have prepared some dishes ahead, reheat them to 165 degrees. Crockpots are not the best way to reheat because the temperature is too low for too long to be safe.
3. If you are waiting to eat until everyone arrives, keep hot foods at 140 degrees or above. Crockpots and warming drawers will work for holding food temperatures.
4. After dinner, refrigerate or freeze the leftovers within two hours of being cooked. Discard leftovers if they have been sitting at room temperature much longer than that.
5. Remove the stuffing from the turkey and store separately. Take the meat off the bones and slice up any large chunks of meat before storing. Put the bones and carcass in a separate container to refrigerate or freeze if you are planning on making stock later. Turkey will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or you can wrap the meat in foil, place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months.
6. Divvy up large quantities of leftovers and place them in shallow containers or Ziploc bags so they will chill quicker and easier. Most sides will be fine to keep refrigerated up to 3 days. Mashed potatoes, gravy or stuffing also can be frozen.
7. Check your refrigerator and freezer temperatures. You may need to turn them down in order to cool the large amounts of food you will be storing. Refrigerators should be 40 degrees or cooler and freezers no greater than 0 degrees. Don’t overcrowd your refrigerator as air circulation is important for proper cooling.
9. If sending leftovers home with guests, pack them on ice in a cooler if their trip will be longer than 2 hours.
10. Fruit pies can be covered with plastic wrap and left on the counter for 2-3 days. Pumpkin, pecan or other soft pies should be refrigerated and will be good for 2-3 days.
11. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees. You can reheat in the microwave, but some foods like stuffing or casseroles reheat better in the oven. Use a wide, ovenproof dish, cover with foil and bake at 325-350 degrees until heated through to 165 degrees. Bring leftover gravy, soups or sauces to a boil before eating.
12. If you have leftover leftovers, or leftovers that you have reheated and still didn’t finish, you can stick them back in the fridge within 2 hours of their last heating and reheat again.
All Thanksgiving Day leftovers should be eaten, frozen or tossed by Monday.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.