Thanksgiving Day is a time for family, friends, and of course, feasting. But let's not forget the star of the weekend: those delicious Thanksgiving leftovers! However, as we eagerly anticipate diving into them, it's crucial to remember the key to enjoying leftovers is handling them safely.

Storing Leftovers: The Clock is Ticking!

Foodsafety.gov emphasizes that leftovers should be stored within two hours of cooking. This is not the time to leave your turkey out to cool. Instead, slice it up and store it in smaller portions in covered shallow containers. This method ensures quick cooling and minimizes the risk of bacteria growth. Surprisingly, a recent USDA study found that 76% of respondents would let food cool to room temperature before refrigerating, a practice that can actually render food unsafe.

The Refrigerator Rule: Four Days to Finish

Leftovers can stay in your fridge for a blissful three to four days. That means by Monday post-Thanksgiving, it’s time to either finish them off or move them to the freezer. The USDA warns that 31% of people would eat leftovers stored for more than four days in the fridge, a risky move as spoilage bacteria can cause food to develop unpleasant odors or flavors.

Freezer Guidelines: Long-Term Leftover Love

If you're not able to finish all the leftovers by Monday, freezing is your next best option. In the freezer, they can maintain optimal quality for 2 to 6 months. But remember, food can still become unsafe even in the cold confines of your freezer if not handled properly initially.

Don’t Forget the FoodKeeper App

For those of us who might forget these deadlines, the USDA has developed the FoodKeeper app. This handy tool not only reminds you of the ‘use or freeze’ dates but also offers storage guidelines for over 600 food and beverage items, along with safe food preparation tips and recent food product recalls.

Reheating: Safety First

When it comes to reheating, you can safely reheat frozen leftovers without thawing. Remember to heat them to 165°F (74°C) and cover them to retain moisture and ensure even heating. For microwaved foods, rotate and stir for even heating, and allow a resting time before checking the temperature.

Got Questions?

If you have more queries about safely using your leftovers, reach out to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email MPHotline@usda.gov. They're available to chat live from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

So, Louisiana, enjoy those Thanksgiving treats, but remember, safe handling and storage are your tickets to delicious, risk-free leftovers.

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Gallery Credit: Joni Sweet

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