The party is over! What happens to the leftovers?
It is important to take care of leftovers properly after a holiday meal to prevent foodborne illness.
The big holiday meal was eaten. Now is the time to take care of the leftovers. For the sake of food safety, the leftovers should not remain at room temperature for more than two hours. As the food cools, foodborne illness bacteria begin to grow. The ideal temperatures that foodborne illness bacteria grow are 40 to 140 degrees. This is the Temperature Danger Zone.
Large dishes of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole should be divided up into small shallow containers to cool quickly. The turkey needs to be deboned and the meat put into smaller packages to cool quickly as well. The ham should be cut in smaller portions and cooled. These leftovers can go directly into the refrigerator or freezer once they have been divided into smaller portions.
Cold dishes such as relish trays and dips and jellied cranberry sauce should be put into the refrigerator to cool to at 40 degrees or colder.
After the holiday meal or event, the storage life of the leftovers is only three to four days in the refrigerator. With this in mind, if there are a lot of leftovers, they should be frozen and used within two to three months. Longer freezer storage time will affect the quality of the food product, not necessarily the food safety.
When reheating leftovers, the foods should be reheated to 165 degrees, be sure to use a food thermometer to check the temperature before serving. If the food is not at 165 degrees, continue to reheat until it is. Stirring the food will help eliminate cold spots where bacteria can grow. It is necessary to bring gravies and sauces to a boil to recombine ingredients that separate during cooling and cold storage.