Food Safety: The Best Ingredient for Thanksgiving Leftovers
Beverly Cazares, Communication Program Specialist, FSIS-USDA
It’s almost time to dust off the family’s favorite Thanksgiving turkey recipe and begin cooking the year’s biggest meal for family and friends. “Will I have a lot of leftovers?” “Will I be throwing away leftover food?” These are some of the questions you might ask yourself as you start planning the feast and want to avoid food waste. Don’t stress! You can keep your loved ones safe and enjoy leftovers by following these food safety steps:
- Remember the 2-hour Rule: Never leave perishable food out at room temperature over two hours or one hour if the temperature is above 90 F. Bacteria that can cause foodborne illness will start to grow to dangerous levels between 40 F and 140 F. This temperature range is called the "Danger Zone.”
- Refrigerate or Freeze: Leftover turkey should be carved and divided into smaller pieces and placed in shallow containers for rapid cooling. Cover foods to retain moisture and prevent them from picking up odors from other foods. Use refrigerated leftovers within four days or freeze them for longer storage. When frozen under 0 F, leftovers will remain safe indefinitely, but quality may change over time.
- Reheat to 165 F: Leftovers should always be reheated to 165 F as measured with a food thermometer. Leftovers can be reheated in a conventional oven, microwave, or on the stove top. To reheat in a microwave, stir, cover, and rotate fully cooked food for even heating.
- Leftover makeover: If you followed all the above steps, MyPlate.gov can help with unique, yummy ways to makeover your leftovers and avoid food waste.
For more information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email MPHotline@usda.gov to reach a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. The Meat and Poultry Hotline will also be open on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.