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What to do with all those leftovers?: USDA provides food safety tips

A large container or whole turkey will take too long to cool down to a safe temperature, which...
A large container or whole turkey will take too long to cool down to a safe temperature, which gives bacteria a chance to multiply, according to the USDA.(Storyblocks)
Published: Nov. 25, 2021 at 5:06 PM CST
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PINE BELT, Miss. (WDAM) - Thanksgiving day is for family and friends, but Thanksgiving weekend is all about the leftovers.

Before you eat, keep these tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture handy so that your leftovers can stay safely stored in your fridge or freezer.

  • Handling food safely

According to the USDA, leftovers should be stored within two hours of cooking.

You should divide your leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate or freeze them in covered shallow containers so they cool quickly. A large container or whole turkey will take too long to cool down to a safe temperature, which gives bacteria a chance to multiply, according to the USDA.

Around 76 percent of respondents in a recent USDA study said they would refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature first. This is not necessary and could make your food unsafe said USDA.

USDA said leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, even if they still have steam or heat coming off them.

  • How long do the turkey and trimmings stay safe in the refrigerator or freezer?

According to the USDA, leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days. This means you have until the Monday after Thanksgiving to eat all of your leftovers or place them in the freezer to enjoy later.

Around 31 percent of participants in a recent USDA research study indicated they would eat leftovers kept longer than four days in the refrigerator. After four days, spoilage bacteria can cause food to develop a bad smell or taste.

If you store leftovers in the freezer, they will be of the best quality within 2-6 months, according to the USDA.

The USDA has an app, which triggers reminders to your smartphone or tablet called the FoodKeeper app. The app also includes storage guidelines for more than 600 food and drink items, tips for safe food preparation and food product recalls, which were recently integrated into the app.

  • How to reheat leftovers safely

According to the USDA, It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers without thawing in a microwave or oven. Reheating will take longer than if the food is thawed first, but it is safe to do when time is short.

When reheating leftovers, the USDA said to be sure they reach 165°F as measured with a food thermometer.

USDA also said to cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.

Other tips include:

  • Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a boil.
  • Cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish and add some liquid if needed. Be sure the covering is microwave safe and vent the lid or wrap to let the steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking.
  • Check the temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer and allow a resting time before checking the internal temperature of the food with a food thermometer.

If you have additional questions about using your leftovers safely, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday - Friday, in English or Spanish.

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