Storing Holiday Leftovers Safely

As the holidays approach, many of us are thinking about what we and our friends and family will be eating come the big day and, as leftovers are an inevitable part of any large meal, many days afterwards. No matter how much you plan and calculate, you will have more food than you and your guests can eat, so it is important to know how to keep your half-eaten casseroles, slices of turkey and delicious pies safe to consume after the celebration has come and gone.

According to Dr. Ana May Manuel of the White-Wilson Family Medicine Clinic in Fort Walton Beach, storing your leftovers in appropriate conditions is one of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness. This year alone, one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning and this holiday season, you don’t want to be one of them.

“Food storage is not something a lot of people think about,” she explains, “but there are rules to follow in order to keep your food safe and prevent illness. Food-related illnesses are always unpleasant but in some cases, they can even become life-threatening.”

The first way to make sure your leftovers are safe to eat, according to Dr. Manuel, is to cook them properly to begin with and as per United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommendations.

“The US Department of Agriculture offers recommendations that range from cleanliness of a cooking space to temperature at which you should cook meat and are the perfect place to start when it comes to cooking safely,” she says.

After safely cooking your meals and enjoying them with your friends and family, it’s important to start thinking about leftover storage as soon as possible.

“Most dishes should be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked, unless you are keeping them at a safe temperature through a warming or cooling technique,” Dr. Manuel says. “As a general rule of thumb, hot food should be kept above 140°F and, cold food should remain below 40°F. If you do not adhere by these guidelines, you risk the chance of bacteria growing, making the food unsafe to eat.”

Dr. Manuel also recommends storing food in many smaller, airtight containers before refrigerating, which enables the dishes to cool faster and also keeps bacteria from growing.

“Finally,” Dr. Manuel says, “no matter how much you love your leftovers, they should only be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days before being thrown out. To keep them any longer, I recommend freezing them, which allows them to keep for 3 to 4 months. That way you can enjoy all that Thanksgiving goodness well into the New Year!”

Dr. Ana May Manuel is a Family Medicine physician at White-Wilson Medical Center in Fort Walton Beach. She currently offers same day appointments and is now accepting new patients. Learn more about Dr. Manuel and her approach to patient care here.

 

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