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Healthy Recipe Doctor

with Elaine Magee, MPH, RD

Elaine Magee's blog has now been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support she has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Leftovers and Food Safety

The last thing you want for yourself or your guests at Thanksgiving is to get sick that night or the next day. Granted I’m a bit of a food poisoning phobic, but truly with all the traveling with food dishes, lengthy feasting and food sitting out, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

One of my pet peeves is seeing leftovers get wrapped up in individual containers so guests can take them home with them… then they sit at room temperature on the kitchen counter or table until guests are ready to leave. By the time guests have coffee and pie and then make their way out the door and drive themselves home, the leftovers can be sitting out for four hours at least! Why is four hours horrifying? You’ll find out below…

Here are answers to your Thanksgiving leftover questions, which will hopefully keep your Thanksgiving feast leftovers as safe as they are delicious!

How long can you leave your Thanksgiving dinner on the table before running the risk of it spoiling? The danger zone, where harmful bacteria multiply the fastest, is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are keeping some dishes hot while you wait for the turkey to be done or guests to arrive, the oven temperature has to be high enough to keep the internal temperature at 140 degrees or higher. Once you set food out on the table you want to wrap any leftovers up and get it refrigerated within a maximum of two hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F).

Should you let food come to room temperature before putting it in the refrigerator? No. The sooner you refrigerate leftovers the better.

What’s the best way to store leftovers? Divide leftovers (that haven’t been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F) into smaller wrapped portions or in covered shallow containers. This allows the leftovers to reach cooler, safer temperatures more quickly.

How long can leftovers keep in the refrigerator? Turkey and stuffing should be consumed within three days and gravy within two days. This means if you made a casserole the day after thanksgiving with the leftover gravy, you still need to consume that dish within two days from Thanksgiving day when the gravy was made.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving celebration!

Posted by: Elaine Magee, RD at 10:07 am

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