Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to safely handle your leftovers. Simply thawing and cooking your turkey properly will not necessarily mean that leftovers are safe. Only proper handling and storing will ensure that your leftovers stay safe to eat for days to come.
1. Don't Leave Them Out. Once the food comes out of the oven it eventually cools down to a temperature that is very conducive to bacterial growth. If left out too long, bacteria will start to multiply. Throw away any food that has been sitting at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. Throw away any food that has been sitting at 90 degrees F for longer than one hour.
2. Small Containers. Divide all leftovers into small portions and store them in shallow containers. Leftovers that are left in large pots and pans don't cool evenly. It could take hours before the center reaches a safe storage temperature and by then, bacteria levels will get to dangerous levels. The smaller the container, the quicker food will cool down making it impossible for bacteria to multiply.
3. Refrigeration. Use refrigerated turkey and stuffing within3-4 days of storing it. Gravy should be used within 1-2 days. Use frozen leftovers within 2-6 months.
4. Reheat. All leftovers that have come in contact with the turkey should be reheated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. You can do this in your oven by setting it to 325 degrees F. You can also reheat leftovers in the microwave as long as they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
5. Safety For All Leftovers. If you give your leftovers away, make sure that the above rules are followed. Leftovers should not sit out for longer than 2 hours at room temperature; this includes time in your kitchen in addition to transporting them to other people's refrigerators. Make sure all your guests know about storage times and reheating temperatures.
The Bottom Line
Food safety does not stop when Thanksgiving is over. As long as you are eating leftovers, you should ensure that you are following proper food safety guidelines.