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Thanksgiving Leftovers: 5 Food-Safety Rules To Live By

For many of us, Thanksgiving leftovers are even better than the feast itself. Here are smart tips for safely storing and reheating leftovers so you can enjoy them for days to come.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Photo by Allrecipes

1. The two-hour rule.

Because keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold slows spoilage, it’s safest to refrigerate, freeze, or thoroughly reheat any food that has been sitting out at room temperature for up to two hours—and to discard leftovers that have been left out longer than that.

2. The smaller-is-better rule.

Before storing leftovers, it’s wise to slice up any big hunks of meat, remove stuffing from the bird, and divvy up large quantities among several shallow airtight containers or zip- top plastic bags. Storing in smaller portions allows the food to chill more quickly and evenly, helps avoid overheating your fridge, and lets you take out only as much as you need for those midnight sandwiches.

3. The three-day/four-month rule.

Most leftovers will keep three or four days in the fridge or up to four months in the freezer. (Technically, your turkey leftovers could stay in the freezer until next year’s Thanksgiving dinner, but they likely wouldn’t taste great. Many foods lose flavor, moisture, and texture after the first few months in the freezer.) Freezing sliced turkey with gravy will help it retain moisture. See How to Freeze Food.

4. The “leftover leftovers” rule.

If you nuked a little too much turkey or you just couldn’t eat all of the enchiladas you made with that leftover pumpkin, not to worry. You can stick any leftover leftovers back in the fridge or freezer within two hours of their last thorough heating. In fact, leftovers can be reheated and re-chilled as many times as you’d like within four days of their initial cooking. Just know that they’ll lose a little moisture with each hot/cold cycle.

5. The reheat-it-right rules.

Most refrigerated leftovers can be reheated in shallow covered baking dishes in a 350°F oven or in covered pans over medium heat on the stovetop. Just stir occasionally and add a little broth or water to remoisten and prevent scorching. For speedier reheating, you can zap leftovers in a covered dish in the microwave, rotating the dish and stirring occasionally, until heated through. Whichever way you choose, the internal temp you’re going for is a steamy 165°F.

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