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How to deal with all those Thanksgiving leftovers

Too much food is an all-American holiday tradition, and that means lots of leftovers. If not handled carefully, all that extra food can go to waste, or worse, cause foodborne illness.

Food needs to be stored properly to be able to enjoy it for a couple more days.

To ensure your holiday pasta remains safe to eat, follow these guidelines:

  • Two hour rule: All perishable items must be refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. After two hours, perishable food enters the danger zone, between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can multiply rapidly and make food unsafe. If food has been left out for more than two hours, throw it out to prevent foodborne illness. The two-hour rule includes “doggy bags” that are sent home with guests.
  • Use small, shallow containers: Store leftover food in small, shallow containers in the refrigerator or freezer for later use. Shallow containers help cool leftovers more quickly than storing them in large containers.
  • Freeze or consume within four days: If you want to keep leftovers longer than four days, freeze them within that period. Food poisoning bacteria, except Listeria and Hepatitis A, do not grow in the freezer. Food that has been in the freezer for months (recommended freezing times table) may be dry or not taste as good. If you store leftovers in the freezer, the quality will be better within two to six months. Reheat leftover to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

overheating

  • When reheating in the microwave, cover and turn the food so it heats evenly. Arrange food evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl, adding a little liquid if needed. Because microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of food in several places with a food thermometer after standing time.
  • Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies by bringing to a boil.
  • Do not use slow cookers to reheat.
  • Leftovers are safe to eat once they have reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
  • If you decide to freeze your leftovers, use the Safe Thawing Methods when you want to reheat.

Curious about how long a specific food will last in the fridge or freezer? Look at this useful graphic from the FDA.

(For a free subscription to Food Safety News, Click here)

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