Too much food is an All-American holiday tradition, and that means lots of leftovers. If not dealt with carefully, all that extra food can go to waste, or worse, cause foodborne illnesses.
Food needs to be stored properly so it can be enjoyed for a couple more days.
To ensure that your holiday spread remains safe to eat, follow these guidelines:
- Two-hour rule: All perishable items should be refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. After two hours, perishable food enters the Danger Zone — between 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F — where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food to become unsafe. If foods have been left out for more than two hours, discard items to prevent foodborne illness. The two-hour rule includes “doggie bags” sent home with guests.
- Use small and shallow containers: Store leftover food in small, shallow containers in the refrigerator or in the freezer for later use. Shallow containers help cool leftovers more quickly than storing them in large containers.
- Freeze or consume within four days: If you want to keep leftovers longer than four days, freeze them within that period. Food poisoning bacteria — except for Listeria and hepatitis A — do not grow in the freezer. Foods that have been in the freezer for months (recommended freezer times chart) may be dry, or may not taste as good. If you store leftovers in the freezer, the quality will be best within two to six months. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- 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 and add some liquid if needed. Because microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer after allowing a resting time.
- Reheat sauces, soups, and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.
- Do not use slow cookers for reheating.
- Leftovers are safe to eat once they have reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- If you decide to freeze your leftovers, use the Safe Defrosting Methods when you want to reheat.
Curious about how long a specific food will last in the fridge or freezer? Check out this helpful chart from the FDA.
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