Throw out your leftovers day – Nov. 30, 2014

Leftovers become dangerous to eat if they are not handled and stored properly.

It seems these days we are always looking for a reason to celebrate something, Ice-cream Day, Waffle Day, Grandparents Day, Take your Pet to Work Day – you get the idea. All kidding aside, there is actually a 2014 “Throw out Your Leftover Day,” on Nov. 30. Now who would invent such a day? I, personally love leftovers, but I also know there is an expiration date on all leftovers, you just don’t see the date once you have cooked and served the food. Again, food safety is serious stuff, and if you aren’t going eat the food you have on hand in your refrigerator, maybe you need to freeze it for later, rather than letting it go to waste.

Leftovers become dangerous to eat if they are not handled and stored properly. It is estimated that more than a half million cases of foodborne illness are caused each year just from improperly handled turkey leftovers. Food poisoning can target anyone, young and old, but older adults, very young children and people with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable. When food is left out for long periods of time (after big family meals, when everyone tends to sit around and visit) bacteria will grow quickly and could cause a foodborne illness.

It is very important to put all leftovers away immediately after eating. Set a kitchen timer to remind everyone to get up, cover the perishables and get them refrigerated. Keep in mind perishables include dressing, gravy, potatoes, cut salads, fruit, veggies and casseroles. Anything that has been left at room temperature longer than two hours (one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) needs to be discarded. Cool leftovers quickly by placing in shallow, small, airtight containers. Larger containers of hot foods will take longer to cool, allowing bacteria to grow quicker. As foods are placed in the refrigerator, leave room to allow air circulation and allow the refrigerator to do its job. Remember the longer food sits at room temperature, the more bacteria are growing and multiplying, making it potentially unsafe.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following guide for refrigerator storage times:

  • Gravy and broth: One to two days
  • Cooked meat and meat dishes: Three to four days
  • Cooked turkey and poultry dishes: Three to four days
  • Cooked vegetables: Three to four days

If you have more than you can consume in the recommended timeframe, consider freezing the excess food for later use.

Michigan State University Extension also recommends:

  • Always washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, including taking time to wash between cracking eggs and proceeding on to the next step in the recipe.
  • De-boning the turkey and storing the meat separately from the dressing and gravy.
  • Keeping a refrigerator and freezer thermometer in your units. Even if your appliances have these thermometers on the outside, keep one on the inside to prepare in case of a power outage. Your refrigerator should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and your freezer should be set at zero degree or colder.
  • When reheating leftovers, reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check with an instant read thermometer.

University of Nebraska Lincoln and Iowa State University developed a four day throw away app and website. To learn more visit the interactive site at www.4daythrowaway.org, which gives direction on how to download the user friendly app that helps determine when to toss leftover food from the refrigerator.

Avoiding foodborne illness can be easy when you take precautions to protect yourself and your family. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Don’t let leftovers sit out longer than two hours and take the time to toss any uneaten leftovers on Nov. 30 or freeze them to be safe.

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