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Holiday leftovers: They’re delicious, but remember these safety tips

Steak Dinner Christmas 2021There’s nothing better than holiday leftovers: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, and more.

However, you don’t want to get a foodborne illness by handling or storing some of the unusual holiday foods improperly.

Here are tips to help you avoid problems:

  • If perishable foods – meat, poultry, cooked foods, cheese, and cut up fruits and vegetables – are left out more than two hours, throw them away. Prompt storage can prevent bacteria that cause foodborne illness from growing in leftovers. These bacteria have no odor and can’t be tasted or seen.
  • Leftovers should be stored in shallow pans or containers so that they cool down quickly. The quicker leftovers cool, the less time they spend in the “Danger Zone,” 40–140°F.
  • Most leftovers can be keep about four days in the refrigerator.
  • If you can’t finish leftovers in four days, freeze them. Most cooked foods can be frozen for two to four months and retain its quality. Put food in heavy duty plastic containers, freezer bags, aluminum foil, or freezer paper so it will retain its quality.
  • When reheating leftovers in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating so there aren’t any cold spots.
  • Sauces, soups, and gravies need to be brought to a rolling boil when reheated. Don’t use a slow cooker for reheating.
  • When you thaw frozen foods, use one of these three methods: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Foods thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing.

For more information on how long to store food, see the Food and Drug Administration’s “Refrigerator and Food Storage Chart.”

For questions on food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline or 888-674-6854 or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.


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