Getting together with family and friends around a table laden with a beautifully browned turkey, a clove-studded ham or whatever dish your family chooses for their holiday feast is one of the highlights of the season. Most of us not only enjoy the truly delicious meal, we also think ahead to all the meals and snacks to come from the leftovers.
Unfortunately, eating leftovers that have not been properly handled are responsible for many of the food-borne illnesses reported each holiday season. If enjoying leftovers are a favorite part of your holiday tradition, here are some tips to help ensure that your cold turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich is not only delicious, but also safe to eat.
From Purchase to Table and Beyond
The best food safety practices don’t just involve the way leftovers are handled. Instead, take a moment to make sure that the meat, poultry and produce that ends up on your table was raised and processed healthfully. Consider finding local suppliers that use organic farming practices and handle their products responsibly and in accordance with food safety guidelines for the best flavor and nutrition benefits.
If locally produced foods are not possible, research the brands available where you shop and be sure to check expiration dates before you purchase. Once you make the purchase, refrigerate it immediately and never leave it in the sink to thaw or in the car for hours while shopping or running errands.
When it is time to cook, make sure that all food preparation areas and utensils are clean. Be alert for any cross-contamination risks and use non-toxic cleaning products, such as a spray bottle filled with a vinegar and water solution, to clean up spills on counters that occur while you work.
Safe Leftover Practices
Once the feast is over, taking a few moments to properly store the leftovers is the best way to ensure your family can get maximum enjoyment from them over the coming days and weeks.
- According to the Department of Agriculture, within a couple hours after food is safely cooked or removed from appliances keeping food warm left overs must be refrigerated.
- Bring the food to room temperature as quickly as possible, before packing into air-tight, PBA-free containers. Storing food in this manner keeps air out, so the taste, quality and nutrition are preserved far longer than with foil or plastic wrap.
- After covering, safe limits for storing leftovers are 3-4 days for refrigerated items or 3-4 months in the freezer.
- Perishable foods, such as casseroles, vegetables, turkey and cranberry sauce should be kept cold at 40° F or below.
- For best results, portion leftovers and refrigerate only the amounts of food your family will realistically consume within 2-3 days, while dating, labeling and freezing the rest in meal-sized portions.
Keep the holidays happy, healthy and economical this year by giving your leftovers the time and attention they deserve!