How To Make The Most Of Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
Carol finally allows herself to sit down for the first time all day. Her feet are aching, but her heart is filled with joy as she looks around and sees everyone enjoying the Thanksgiving dinner she worked so hard to prepare.
And now, the cleanup begins.
She begins sorting through her storage containers and realizes that she’s not really sure what foods to keep and what to throw away. As her eyes scan over the half-eaten and picked over spread, she thinks to herself, “Is it all going to go to waste?”
See, Carol knows that food shouldn’t sit out for too long, and she knows that foodborne illness is a serious thing. And honestly, most of this food stayed out the whole evening.
So what exactly is safe to keep and throw in the fridge? What should be frozen, and what should be thrown away?
Here are a few foolproof tips to help make sure that your Thanksgiving leftovers are being stored safely so you can make sure they can be enjoyed for the longest time possible after the holiday and avoid food waste.
WHAT THE USDA SAYS ABOUT LEFTOVERS
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), leftovers have a very limited lifespan. The USDA officially recommends that you “discard any leftovers that have been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature, and if the environment was 90°F or higher, discard after one hour.”
For storage, they say that “leftovers can [only] be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months.”
Cooked food sitting at room temperature, which is 40°F and 140°F, is what the USDA deems the “Danger Zone.” Bacteria grows rapidly in this range of temperatures, and the food can quickly become unsafe to eat.
USDA RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LEFTOVERS
- Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours—1 hour if the temperature was above 90°F (32.2ºC).
- Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid cooling.
- Use cooked leftovers within 4 days.
- Reheat leftovers to 165°F (73.9°C).
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS
1. FRIDGE, TABLE, FRIDGE
Try to stay as close to the two-hour rule as you can, and refrain from leaving food out all day without refrigerating it. Food should go from the fridge, to prepared, to the table, and back to the fridge as soon as you’re finished eating.
If it’s time to plate the desserts, there is no harm in quickly packing up the leftovers from dinner and putting them away before dessert starts.
2. A LITTLE IN THE FRIDGE, FREEZE THE REST
You likely already know what you’re going to do with those leftovers, so why not play it safe and set aside just the food you’ll need to make a day or two worth of leftovers for the family, and pop the rest of the food right into the freezer.
This ensures that nothing goes to waste, and your tummy remains safe from the harmful pathogens that can develop after leaving food in the refrigerator too long.
3. MAKE THE FREEZER YOUR FRIEND
Although the USDA claims that freezing foods properly keeps them safe from bacterial growth for quite some time, they still recommend re-heating and consuming frozen items that are no more than 3-4 months old.
This recommendation is because after that time, water molecules begin to escape the food and are replaced with oxygen molecules from within the freezer. The result is usually an altered taste and texture to the food typically known as “freezer burn”. And although it may not be as appealing, freezer burned food is safe to consume.
4. TRUST (AND USE) YOUR SENSES
Now, if all else fails, trust your senses! The human body has some brilliantly developed mechanisms to protect itself from eating food that will make you ill.
And through no fault of your own, sometimes food spoils before the recommended throw out date. In addition, some food may survive a few extra days in the fridge.
Be smart, and use your common sense. If it looks fine, smells fine, and tastes fine… it may still be fine to eat. On the contrary, if it looks, smells, or tastes funny… toss it!
If you are still questioning how long you can keep certain food, check the USDA website for more information.
What is your favorite way to consume Thanksgiving leftovers? Share in the comments below!