Leftover lovers unite!

Leftovers aren’t meant to be kept forever – handle them safely to stay healthy.

It is that time of the year where big meals are being prepared and we can feast for days on these wonderful creations; making delicious soups, shepherd pies, hot turkey sandwiches, turkey and cranberry sandwiches and more!

It is important to keep in mind that leftovers are not meant to be kept forever. It is recommended that they be kept only three to four days, and that is if they are refrigerated properly after the original meal. So by the end of the holiday weekend, it is time to pitch what is left.

A suggestion is to refrigerate only the turkey you think you will use in the next few days and store the rest in the freezer, where it will be safe for the next two to six months.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has compiled a list of storage tips for holiday foods; see if you can follow these to keep your family from getting sick due to a foodborne illness:

  • Perishable foods should be left at room temperature for no more than two hours before they are refrigerated or frozen. Remember bacteria can multiply rapidly between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so limit the amount of time food is in that “temperature danger zone.” If your family likes to sit around the table and visit, set a kitchen timer to remind everyone to get up and put the perishables away.
  • If leftovers are extremely hot when you are getting ready to store, take extra steps to help the food cool quickly to reach the safe temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below as quickly as possible. Ways to do this might include: Dividing large amounts of food into smaller, shallow containers or de-boning the turkey into smaller pieces. Never leave food out on the counter to cool before placing in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • After cooling, wrap leftovers in airtight packaging or in sealed containers. You want to prevent leftovers from drying out or picking up odors from other foods and possibly having cross-contamination happen by other foods spilling on them.
  • Anything that goes into the freezer should be labeled and dated, as it may become unrecognizable after a period of time. Make sure your freezer is freezing at temperatures of 0 degrees or lower. Keep in mind your freezer isn’t a keeper of food forever, microbes are only dormant during the freezing process. Keeping foods frozen too long can affect their quality.
  • When any leftover is reheated, whether stove-top, oven or microwave, make sure it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food thermometer to confirm.

Following these simple tips will allow you to prepare the wonderful foods you and your family have created. Keeping an eye on time and temperature will help to prevent any foodborne illnesses that may result from food being mishandled. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to take the time to handle food safely from prep work to leftovers, to ensure a healthy holiday season for your family.

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