The great turkey dinner leftovers

The Thanksgiving feast is over, how do you safely store turkey leftovers?

Some might argue that leftover turkey after the Thanksgiving feast is the best part of the Thanksgiving holiday. If your family is like mine, you will prepare a larger turkey in order to have leftovers for use in many great tasting soups, casseroles or just a delicious turkey sandwich. Others might happen to find themselves with extra turkey and all the trimmings. Whether you planned for leftovers or just happen to have them afterwards, Michigan State University Extension offers a few food safety tips to keep in mind so you can safely enjoy the turkey and other leftovers:

  • All perishable food items must be kept out of the temperature danger zone range of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered safe to eat. Foods that sit in this temperature range for longer than two hours are at an increased risk of bacterial growth. These bacteria can lead to a foodborne illness if not kept under control. It is recommended to throw away any perishables foods that have been in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours.
  • In order to safely use leftovers at a later time, all the food items must have been handled properly during the prepping, cooking and serving. Make sure that you use good food safety practices throughout your meal preparation and cooking to ensure the safety of the leftovers – this includes proper hand washing.
  • Immediately after eating dinner, leftovers should be refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or kept in a roaster or hot-holding unit to keep temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When preparing to refrigerate the turkey, cut the meat into smaller pieces and store in shallow, covered containers. Stuffing and gravy should also be stored in shallow, covered containers as well. Leftover turkey in the refrigerator should be used within three to four days and leftover stuffing and gravy within one to two days.
  • When preparing the leftover turkey, stuffing or gravy make sure to reheat to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit (checking the temperature with your food thermometer) before serving.
  • Freezing the leftovers is a great way to enjoy the holiday food during the weeks ahead and can cut down on food waste. If you know that you cannot consume leftovers within two to three days, freeze them for later use.
  • Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging or seal them in storage containers. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.

After enjoying Thanksgiving dinner and before sitting back to watch the football game or enjoy spending time with family and friends, it is critical to get those holiday dinner leftovers into refrigeration. Keeping the food out of the temperature danger zone will allow you to enjoy lots of great meals made with delicious turkey leftovers.

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