How long will Thanksgiving leftovers keep?
After the big feast, the countdown to repurpose leftovers into soups, sandwiches, and various turkey 2.0 dinners begins. But how long can you safely keep leftovers to enjoy after Thanksgiving day?
First, within two hours after dinner has been served, make sure to pack up leftovers right away and store in the refrigerator. For every 20 minutes over two hours your food sits at room temperature, the level of bacteria doubles in quantity, so don’t procrastinate!
Leftovers can safely keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, or 3 to 4 months in the freezer. Follow the following USDA guidelines for handling leftovers safely:
• Throw away hot or cold food that has been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature happened to be extremely warm, such as above 90°F (for instance at an outdoor event).
• Large quantities of hot food can take longer to cool to a food-safe temperature, thereby increasing the risk of bacteria growth. To speed up the cooling process, store hot food in shallow, small containers so that it cools quickly to a safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40°F. Along those same lines, cut large portions of hot food (such as a turkey or ham) into smaller portions.
• Store leftovers in airtight packaging such as plastic zip-top bags, plastic wrap covered dishes, or storage containers.
• Food must be heated to 165°F. Use a food thermometer to check temperature. If you’re reheating liquid such as a sauce or a soup, bring it to a rolling boil before serving.
• Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator, in a bath of cold water, or the microwave, never on the counter!