Enjoying terrific food is one of the highlights of the holiday season; however, all good things must come to an end, including the holiday celebrations. But holiday meals often bring leftovers and leftovers can help stretch out your holiday cheer.
According to Candace Quigley, a registered dietitian at Mystic Valley Elder Services, it’s important to assess the safety of the foods that are leftover. “If perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, cooked foods, cheese, cut up fruits and vegetables, were out for more than two hours, they should be discarded,” she said. “The last thing your winter season needs is a bellyache – or worse – caused by improperly stored leftovers. And after the holidays, you may find yourself with a particularly full refrigerator.”
To keep your food tasty and free of nasty bacteria, follow these food safety tips (adapted from the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service):
Keep food out of the danger zone: Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 41 and 140 degrees. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140 degrees or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Make sure to refrigerate the food within two hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm.
Cool food rapidly: To prevent bacterial growth, it’s important to divide large amounts of hot food into shallow containers so it reaches the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 41 degrees or below as fast as possible. Cut large items of food into smaller portions to cool. Cut turkey into smaller pieces and refrigerate. Store turkey and stuffing in separate containers.
Wrap leftovers well: Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging or seal them in storage containers. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.
Store leftovers safely: Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days (gravy should be used within one to two days) or frozen for three to four months. Consider marking your leftovers with the date.
Reheat leftovers safely: When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat gravy, sauces and soups by bringing them to a rolling boil. When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish with a microwave-safe covering and add some liquid if needed. Be sure to 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.