According to food safety guidelines from most public health agencies, today is the last day to safely eat refrigerated leftovers from Thursday’s holiday meal, and if you didn’t get them into cold storage within two hours of the feasting, you should have tossed them on Thanksgiving Day.
For the coming holiday season and all through the New Year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends for following for leftovers, whether their from Aunt Fannie’s house or a 5-star restaurant.
“Remember, bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses can’t be smelled or tasted.”
Wrap leftovers well
Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers to keep bacteria out, retain moisture. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.
Store leftovers safely
Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer.
Thaw frozen leftovers safely
Safe ways to thaw leftovers include the refrigerator, cold water and the microwave oven. Refrigerator thawing takes the longest, but the leftovers stay safe the entire time. After thawing, the food should be used within 3 to 4 days, or can be refrozen.
Cold water thawing is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The frozen leftovers must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. If the bag leaks, water can get into the food and bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could enter it. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be throughly cooked before refreezing.
Microwave thawing is the fastest method. When thawing leftovers in a microwave, continue to heat it until it reaches 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Foods thawed in the microwave can be refrozen after heating it to this safe temperature.
Reheating leftovers without thawing
It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers without thawing. Use a saucepan or microwave for soup or stew; use the oven or microwave for casseroles and combination meals). Reheating without thawing will take longer than if the food is thawed, but it is safe to do when time is short.
Reheat leftovers safely
Regardless whether they’re thawed or frozen, be sure leftover reach 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers to reheat to retain moisture and ensure that food will heat all the way through.
When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave safe glass or ceramic dish, and add some liquid if needed. Be sure the covering is microwave safe, and vent the lid or wrap to let the steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking.
Also, because microwaves have cold spots, check the temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer and allow a resting time before checking the internal temperature of the food with a food thermometer. Cooking continues for a longer time in dense foods such as a whole turkey or beef roast than in less dense foods like breads, small vegetables and fruits.
Refreezing previously frozen leftovers
If there are leftover leftovers, it is safe to refreeze any food after reheating previously frozen leftovers to the safe temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.
If a large container of leftovers was frozen and only a portion of it is needed, it is safe to thaw the leftovers in the refrigerator, remove the needed portion and refreeze the remainder of the thawed leftovers without reheating it.
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