If your household is anything like mine, the biggest benefit of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. I love not having to worry about food for days. But, before you dig into that day-old turkey and potatoes, be sure to think about food safety. How you portion and store leftovers can set you up with convenient easy meals for days, or it can cause unwanted food poisoning.
When food is clearly past its prime, the rancid smell or slimy texture are obvious signs of spoilage. However, spoiled food is rarely so obvious. Some bacteria won’t alter the flavor, scent or appearance at all, but can still make you sick.
When packing up and storing leftovers, follow these guidelines to make sure you and your family aren’t at risk.
- Prepare food safely. Food safety starts with purchasing and preparing raw ingredients. Cross-contamination and improper thawing and cooking are surefire ways to a terrible holiday. Visit HomeFoodSafety.org for additional food preparation tips to reduce your risk of becoming a food poisoning holiday casualty.
- Don’t linger over food for more than two hours. It’s tradition in many households to make Thanksgiving a full day of feasting. But if you plan to have a second round in a few hours, refresh or reheat the food. Never leave food out for over two hours because bacteria multiply in warmer temperatures, while cooler temperatures slow bacterial growth.
- Pack your leftovers to promote quick cooling. Hot foods need to be cooled quickly. Pack hot leftovers into several shallow containers (about two inches thick) instead of large deep containers. Don't stack containers in the refrigerator, because stacking can trap heat, thus creating a cozy place for bacteria to grow. The more surface area that's exposed to the cold air, the faster your food will cool.
- Don’t keep leftovers in the fridge too long. Leftover food is safe in the fridge for three to four days. So, before you start packing food up and placing leftovers in the fridge like a game of Jenga, think ahead. “Will this food be eaten by Monday?” If the answer is no, freeze instead.
- Freeze foods you won’t eat by Monday. Frozen foods will last much longer than food in the refrigerator, so freeze food to extend the shelf-life. Download the Is My Food Safe? mobile app for a complete shelf-life guide.
Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RDN, CSSD, CEDRD, ACSM-HFS is founder and owner of MNC Nutrition a New York City based nutrition practice. You can find Marjorie at MNCnutrition.com.