Thanksgiving Leftover Tips

Thanksgiving weekend is hands down, all about the leftovers.  From Turkey Soup made with leftover turkey, to Senate Soup made with leftover ham, to a classic Turkey, Stuffing and Cranberry Sandwich, Thanksgiving leftover foods can be even more exciting than the Thanksgiving Day food itself.

Following some simple guidelines for your leftovers will ensure safe reheating of your leftovers. Below are some of the most common questions answered to keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy.

How long is it safe to leave Thanksgiving food out?

Hot foods (like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc) need to be kept warm at 135° or above.  If they are left out at under 135° for more than two hours you run the risk of harmful bacteria growing, which can make you sick.

Likewise, cold foods (salads, etc) should be kept a cool 41° or below or they also run the same risk of harmful bacteria growth.

To be safe, refrigerate both hot and cold leftovers within two hours.

Should leftovers cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator?

Ideally, leftovers should be put away in the refrigerator as soon as you are finished with your Thanksgiving meal, and definitely within two hours. It isn’t necessary to let your food cool to room temperature and can even be unsafe. Instead, split up the leftovers in to small and shallow containers to allow them to cool off quickly in the refrigerator. Large containers may take too long to cool off, which leads to bacteria growth.

How long can the leftovers stay in the refrigerator?

Plan on using up your leftovers within 3 to 4 days. By the time Monday rolls around, it’s time to either freeze or throw away your leftovers. If you choose to freeze and save them, they will keep for 2 to 6 months. When in doubt, throw it out.

How can the leftovers be safely reheated?

Leftovers can be covered and reheated in the microwave, stove top or oven. Sauces and soups should be brought to a boil on the stove. The key is to make sure that all leftover foods that are reheated hit 165° on your food thermometer. This may require checking several different spots in the food if you are using a microwave, as microwaves may have cold spots.

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