Safeguard Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
Thanksgiving dinner usually ends with a lot of leftovers for days. To keep your food fresh and your stomach happy, be sure to follow the 2-2-4 formula for reusing leftovers.
They used to say that Chicago stockyard workers used "everything but the
squeal." If you use everything but the gobble, you need to remember several
important rules to make sure that table full of lukewarm, breathed-on food is
safe to eat later.
William Stallings, MS, RD, clinical dietitian at Temple University Hospital
in Philadelphia, says to remember the "2-2-4" formula. This means:
- 2 hours. Store all leftovers in the refrigerator or freeze no more than two
hours after cooking. If food has been out more than two hours, toss it.
- 2 inches. Use shallow containers, about two inches deep, to store food.
This will allow it to cool quickly and evenly, foiling pesky bacteria.
- 4 days. Eat leftovers within four days. Holiday food kept longer than that
should be thrown out. Freeze anything that is not going to be used within four
It also is important to keep the fridge at 34 to 40 degrees at all times.
Don't forget, while preparing the feast, you probably opened it a lot. The
setting may need to be lowered a little at least temporarily.
It is also important during prep time, Stallings tells WebMD, to wash your
hands frequently and avoid preparing raw meat on a porous surface, such as a
wooden cutting board, that might soak up contaminated juices and transfer them
to other foods.
Some Foods Keep Better Than Others
Constance Garrett, RD, MS, MA, nutrition and family consumer science adviser
at the University of California Cooperative in San Bernardino, tells WebMD that
stuffing doesn't keep well. At the very least, it should be removed from the
turkey cavity if some of it was placed there. While inside, the dressing may
flavor the turkey -- and be flavored by it -- but it might not get hot enough
to thoroughly scourge harmful bacteria.
These days, many people put an onion and herbs inside the turkey and prepare
the dressing in a separate pan as a side dish.
Stallings says it's OK to cook the stuffing inside, though, if you use a
meat thermometer and make sure the stuffing reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
"People also put a lot of delicate stuff in mashed potatoes at
Thanksgiving," Garrett says. "They can be risky to keep
Sweet potatoes, however, contain sugar and are also prepared using sugary
ingredients (such as those excellent little marshmallows). "Sugar,"
Garrett notes, "acts as something of a preservative."
What about that creamy greenbean/onion ring casserole? "It only contains
three-fourths of a cup of milk," Garrett says, "so it keeps fairly
She also recommends that some dishes be prepared ahead, frozen or
refrigerated, and then microwaved, giving you another shot at zapping harmful
bugs. "This keeps the food safe a little longer."