Food Safety Tips for Thanksgiving Leftovers

One of the first things everyone thinks of when they hear the word Thanksgiving is…food! We spoke with Lisa Stokes, our Dietary & EVS Manager about some of her tips to safely store leftovers from your upcoming Thanksgiving meal.

After everyone’s bellies are full from enjoying turkey (and all of the tasty side dishes!), cut the turkey meat off the bone and refrigerate it within two hours of coming out of the oven. Leftovers will last for four days in the refrigerator, so if you know you won’t use them right away, pack them into freezer bags or airtight containers and freeze. For best quality, use your leftover turkey within four months. Frozen leftover turkey is safe forever, but after four months it can dry out or lose flavor. To retain moisture in turkey, Lisa suggests freezing it with gravy. 

When thinking about storing food, Lisa shares that “it’s safest to freeze, refrigerate or reheat any food that has been sitting out at room temperature for up to two hours. If your leftovers have been sitting out longer than that, you’ll want to discard them.” Think of this as “the two hour rule.” Lisa also shares that before storing your leftovers, you’ll want to slice up any bigger pieces of meat and divide larger quantities amongst several containers or zip-top plastic bags. Storing your leftovers in smaller portions will allow the food to be chilled more evenly, and will also allow you to take out only what you need as you are making those leftover turkey sandwiches!

When reheating your leftovers, Lisa suggests, “Use shallow covered baking dishes in a 350°F oven or cover pans on medium heat on the stove. Add broth or water to remoisten and be sure to stir occasionally.” She notes that you can also put your leftovers in the microwave, but you’ll want to use a covered dish, rotating it and stirring until it is heated throughout. Be sure to use a food thermometer to make sure your leftovers have been heated to an internal temperature of 165°F. 

Happy eating!