Store and Reheat Your Thanksgiving Leftovers for Safe Post-Holiday Meals and Grazing

By on November 29, 2019

If it’s not enough to host the extended family for Thanksgiving, deal with the predicted downpours on Thursday and try to make everybody just get along over the holiday, you also need to be concerned with safely storing and reheating the Thanksgiving meal leftovers. But better safe than sorry because you don’t want a trek to the local emergency department with food poisoning!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some great tips and advice for being food safe this holiday season. Leftovers from the Thanksgiving feast (or Christmas dinner in just a few weeks) are one of the joys of cooking a big meal. But foods stored safely and reheated appropriately are important precautions. Take heed –

Safely Storing Leftovers (when and how)

  • Leftovers should be stored within two hours of cooking.
  • Dividing leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerating or freezing them in covered shallow containers helps them to cool more quickly.
  • Storing the leftovers while still on the carcass will take too long to cool down to a safe temperature so break it apart. Otherwise bacteria get a chance to multiply.
  • It is not necessary to let foods cool down before refrigerating them; in fact, this encourage the growth of bacteria.
  • Leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, even if they still have steam or heat coming off them.

How Long Are Thanksgiving Leftovers “Good?”

  • Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days or if you celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday you have until Monday after the holiday to eat your leftovers.
  • Leftovers frozen after Thanksgiving will be of best quality if eaten within two-to-six months.

Safely Reheating Thanksgiving Leftovers

  • It is safe to reheat frozen leftovers by thawing, either in a saucepan or microwave (in the case of a soup or stew) or in the oven or microwave for casseroles and one-pot meals.
  • Be sure your leftovers are reheated to a temperature of 165°F, as measured with a food thermometer.
  • It’s best to cover the foods when reheating by placing food in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish. Most food experts agree that it’s best to not use plastics in the microwave when reheating foods.
  • Feel free to add a bit of liquid to your leftovers; the moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking.
  • Microwaves have cold spots so check the temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer and allow a resting time before checking the internal temperature of the food with a food thermometer.

Two final suggestions for safely reheating your leftovers. If you need specific advice on safely reheating a specific food, check out: https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app. The app is a great resource with information on freshness and quality, cooking methods and cooking tips.

Lastly, if you don’t own a food thermometer you need to get and use one. It takes the guess work out of “is it done?” and helps ensure that your foods are temperature-safe to eat. Models range from the old-fashioned stick with a manual read dial to a new-age digital model that can continuously be kept in the food while it is cooking. If you don’t own a food thermometer now is the time to get one or put the item on your holiday wish-list.

Happy and safe holidays to one and all!