Making the Thanksgiving feast last: Taking care of leftovers

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Once we have all had our Thanksgiving feast, avoiding waste and potential foodborne illnesses becomes our most important task. A careful approach to storing and reheating Thanksgiving leftovers can extend the joy of the holiday season without compromising health.

Here are some helpful tips:

The Two-Hour Rule:
Perishable items, including turkey and side dishes, should be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked or taken out of the refrigerator. Beyond this timeframe, the “Danger Zone” — between 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F — becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Any food left unrefrigerated for more than two hours, including “doggie bags” sent home with guests, should be discarded to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Use Small and Shallow Containers:
To expedite the cooling process, store leftover food in small, shallow containers. Unlike large containers, which retain heat, smaller ones help cool the food more rapidly, reducing the risk of bacterial growth. This practice is especially crucial when transitioning leftovers to the refrigerator or freezer.

Freeze or Consume Within Four Days:
To retain both quality and safety, leftovers should be either consumed or frozen within four days. While food poisoning bacteria, with the exception of Listeria and hepatitis A, do not thrive in the freezer, it is essential to adhere to recommended freezer times for optimal taste. For maximum quality, consume frozen leftovers within two to six months, reheating them to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Reheating Guidelines:
When reheating leftovers, several key considerations should be kept in mind:

  • Microwave Reheating: Cover and rotate food for even heating in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish. To address cold spots, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature at various points.
  • Sauces, Soups, and Gravies: Bring these items to a rolling boil on the stovetop to ensure thorough reheating.
  • Avoid Slow Cookers for Reheating: Slow cookers are not suitable for reheating as they may not reach the necessary temperatures to eliminate bacteria.

Safe Defrosting Methods:
If frozen leftovers are the plan, it is crucial to use safe defrosting methods before reheating. The USDA recommends either thawing in the refrigerator, cold water thawing, or using the microwave, following manufacturer instructions.

FDA’s helpful chart:
For those curious about the shelf life of specific foods in the fridge or freezer, the FDA provides a useful chart detailing recommended storage times. This resource can assist in making informed decisions about the safety and quality of leftover items.

By prioritizing safe storage and reheating practices, individuals can relish the flavors of the holiday season without compromising on health and safety.

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