Practice food safety to protect holiday leftovers

Don’t let foodborne illness ruin the holiday season.

The holiday season is upon us. Have you thought about all of the leftovers? With the hustle and bustle of the season, remember to stop and take time for food safety. You do not want foodborne illness to be an unexpected guest at the holiday table.

To start, in order to have safe leftovers, cooking meat and poultry safely is a must. It is wise to make a food thermometer your new best friend when cooking meat. Food, particularly meat, needs to be cooked to safe, minimum internal temperatures.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following tips for cooking meat and poultry:
  • All raw beef, lamb, pork, and veal steaks, chops and roasts need to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If personal preference is for a higher temperature, that is acceptable.
  • Meat needs to rest for a minimum of 3 minutes before carving or consuming it. This resting time allows the meat juices to redistribute for a more flavorful piece of meat.
  • All ground beef, lamb, and pork needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F.
  • Last but not least, poultry needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F.

Since foodborne illness bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature “Danger Zone” of 40 F to 140 F, it is important that food spend the least amount of time in the “Danger Zone.

  • Keep hot food hot at least 140 F to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Keep cold foods cold such as deli meats at 40 F or lower.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within a two-hour limit of being cooked.
  • Throw away all perishable foods that have been out for longer than two hours at room temperature.
  • Keep food cold by nesting dishes in a bed or bowl of ice or use smaller serving dishes and replenish them often.
Tips for cooling food rapidly for safe refrigerator storage at 40 F or lower include:
  • Divide large amounts of food into small, shallow (no deeper than 3”) containers.
  • Cut large food items such as a ham or turkey breast into smaller portions. Turkey legs and wings can be left whole.
  • Use an ice-or water bath to cool hot food such as soups rapidly.

By wrapping and storing leftovers properly, the quality of the food will stay superior and the bacteria will be kept at bay.

To wrap and store leftovers:
  • Cover leftovers with airtight packaging such as plastic wrap, or place them in airtight storage containers.
  • Leftovers can remain in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or may be frozen for 3 to 4 months.

Protecting those holiday leftovers is a must. For safe and delicious leftovers this holiday season, remember to pause and take time for food safety. Your friends and family will thank you for not inviting foodborne illness to the holiday table.

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