Families usually have an abundance of leftovers after the big Thanksgiving feast. If refrigerated promptly, turkey and the trimmings can be safely enjoyed for the next few days. When everyone heads for the family room to watch the football games, take a few minutes to properly store those special dishes. Wrap and chill leftovers within two hours of cooking or discard them to prevent food borne illness. Your refrigerator temperature should be 36-38 degrees F. Don’t crowd dishes; cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
Cooked turkey, other meats, and most side dishes should be served no longer than three to four days after Thanksgiving. If you need to hold food for a longer period of time, store it in your freezer. Use bags or containers labeled for frozen storage. Consume frozen leftovers within 4 months. Although properly frozen foods remain safe indefinitely, the quality of reheated dishes may deteriorate after a few months.
When reheating foods in the microwave, use containers intended for that purpose. Recycled containers like whipped topping and margarine bowls are not heat stable. Chemicals from the plastic may be absorbed by the food during heating. Wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, white microwave-safe paper towels and microwave plastic wraps are safe to use. Regular plastic wrap may melt when it comes in contact with hot foods. Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.
Arrange food items evenly in a dish and add some liquid if needed. Moist heat helps destroy harmful bacteria and ensures even heating. Cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap; loosen or vent the lid or wrap to let steam escape. Stir or rotate food midway through the microwaving time to eliminate cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive. Allow covered food to stand for two minutes before eating. Then, use a clean food thermometer to check that food has reached 165 degrees F. Bring gravy, sauces, and soups to a rolling boil before serving.
For more information, call the toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854. The Hotline will be staffed with food safety specialists on Thanksgiving Day from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Central Time to answer your turkey questions. You can also visit http://www.extension.org/.
Danna Gillett is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for Richland Parish.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture