Thanksgiving leftovers? Here’s what to keep and what to toss

Family Thanksgiving

Holiday meals, especially Thanksgiving dinner, are traditionally known and looked forward to for the leftovers. But some of the feast’s fixings are better discarded than saved.

Whether or not you’re playing host, consider factors that could deem your remnants harmful to keep. Before you gather your plastic containers and zipper-topped bags, check out these guidelines for safer food handling.

According to research performed both in the US and abroad, illness-causing bacteria can begin to grow on foods that are left outside of refrigeration in just two hours. A good rule of thumb is to discard foods that require refrigeration if they have been out beyond the recommended time allotment.

To further the concern for harmful bacteria that may be lurking in your leftovers, experts agree that it is impossible to tell whether or not a food is safe to eat just by looking at it or smelling it.

New Jersey registered dietitian, Jacqueline Gomes, says, “When food is left out for long periods of time, bacteria will quickly grow and could cause a food-borne illness; some can be as serious as kidney failure. Storing leftovers within the two-hour window will help increase their lifespan.”

When you decide which foods to keep, make good use of them soon. Even refrigerated leftovers should be thrown out, most within 2-5 days. Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind:

Refrigerated leftovers:

Deli meats (including turkey leftovers): 3 days
Deviled eggs and mini meatballs: 4-5 days
Dips and shellfish: 2-3 days, but preferably eaten within a day
Hard Cheeses: 3-4 weeks
Raw Veggies: 4 days
Soft cheeses: 1 week

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminds us to reheat treasured Thanksgiving leftovers to at least 165 degrees before eating. Use a food thermometer to insure that your dish has reached the magical bacteria-killing temp if you’re unsure.

Above all, enjoy the time spent with loved ones this holiday season. By practicing these few proven safety measures, you and your guests are sure to have more time to spend together, instead of in the emergency room.


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