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Thanksgiving Leftovers Properly Cooled and to the Fridge, Stat!

With Thanksgiving upon us safe handling of foods after the big meal can be just as important as insuring that your meal is cooked properly!
I’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinners for more years than I want to admit but somehow I’ve missed a common recommendation for safely storing and using the leftovers. It’s known as the “2 hours/2 inches/4 days” formula:
Two hours: Lingering at the table to enjoy your families and friends is fine so long as you can complete your meal and visit with your guests but not exceed a two-hour window. All foods should be properly packed and in the refrigerator within two hours. The two-hour rule is critical say experts.
Two inches: Caution – don’t overload your food containers! Fill them to no more than two inches so that the foods can rapidly chill once in the fridge.
Four days: Leftovers should be eaten or frozen within three to four days of the meal. You can freeze foods, preferably right after the big feast. Cooked, cooled and then frozen turkey pieces will maintain quality for about four months. Stuffing and gravy will remain good for only one month.
A few other pointers for safely storing leftovers –
  • Desserts vary in how long they can safely be stored and eaten. For the traditional pumpkin pie it will only be good for two to three days; fruit pies will last for three to five days.
  • All foods should be stored separately. Place stuffing, potatoes, gravy and each vegetable in separate containers.
  • It’s unsafe to store foods in large chunks because they don’t cool quickly enough. Cut turkey meat from the carcass right after the meal (slice breast meat rather than leaving it in large pieces.)
  • You can also remove the large pieces from the carcass and then boil the carcass to make soups and stews. After removing the large pieces of meat, break the carcass in pieces and boil so that most of the small bits of meat fall off the carcass. Once the carcass has cooled a bit, remove any loose pieces on the carcass and package the broth and meat bits in small, very air-tight container. The broth should be used in the next four months.
  • Be sure and label all leftovers you freeze with not only the identification of the food but the date by which it should be used.
  • Another important factor for safe food storage is the temperature of the refrigerator. Set the temperature control at 36 to 38 degrees (F) to insure the contents are kept below the threshold of 40 degrees (F).
  • Thoroughly reheat all leftovers. Whether on the stove, in the oven or in the microwave leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees (F). Because slow cookers and chafing dishes don’t usually get hot enough they are not recommended for reheating leftovers.
Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy Thanksgiving season while enjoying those yummy leftovers! And remember when it comes to any leftover foods – when in doubt, throw it out!

By Kathy Roche, Public Relations Manager
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