After days of preparation and planning, hours spent cooking in the kitchen, and just minutes devoted to devouring a festive meal, Thanksgiving can leave us in more than just a food coma.
But even after revisiting the dining room table for seconds (and maybe even thirds), there's usually always enough leftovers to feed the family for lunch the next day—and possibly for quite a few days after that, depending on how many people you're hosting. We all know leftovers are one of the fan-favorites of Turkey Day, and according to The Harris Poll, 79 percent of Americans agree that "having a fridge full of leftovers is the best thing about hosting Thanksgiving."
While keeping leftovers seems like a no-brainer, if not done properly, this easy and frugal fix may make you sick (and no one wants to be sick around the holidays!). That's why it's important to understand food safety techniques when it comes to wrapping up your turkey and sides.
Don't wait more than two hours to store leftovers.
Not all post-meal leftovers will be OK to store, so it's important to note which ones are OK to put in food storage containers—and which ones you're better off tossing. Leaving your cooked leftovers at room temperature for more than two hours can result in contamination by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, which is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning.
Eating meals contaminated by this food-borne pathogen may leave you prone to abdominal cramps and vomiting (the two most common symptoms) just hours after you dig in again. In fact, most Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur during the holiday months of November and December when we frequently feast with the fam, according to the CDC. Do everyone a favor and keep an eye on the time, and be sure to store your favorite foods away before any bacterium has the chance to form.
Here's how long you can store leftovers:
The CDC recommends that perishable dishes be stored in small portions and in shallow containers, then refrigerated (to ensure every nook and cranny is chilled) at 40°F or colder within two hours of preparation.
As for how long you should be keeping those mashed potatoes and gravy, leftovers should be eaten within three to four days. After day four, throw them out! Keeping them for longer is one of the surprising ways you're killing your leftovers.
Freeze any extras.
If you know you made way more food than you'll be able to eat in a couple of days, you can avoid food waste by freezing the remaining Thanksgiving grub for future dinners. Once you're craving the holiday dishes again, reheat them to at least 165°F before enjoying.
Make sure to reheat leftovers properly.
When you're reheating any leftovers in the microwave, you want to make sure that you're heating things properly. A general rule of thumb is to keep the plate light when trying to reheat food, don't make it dense by adding all types of foods at once. You can try reheating foods separately to make sure they are fully reheated before digging in.
If you do try to reheat a lot of different foods at once, just make sure the food is evenly spread out on the plate, that way all the food will heat up at the same rate.
In terms of how you should reheat food in the microwave, we consulted Brian Bennett, executive chef of health forward meal delivery service Eat Clean Bro. "For smaller cuts of chicken, seafood, or ground beef, I usually just use the microwave with a piece of wet paper towel on top of it," he says. "For veggies and starches, I will reheat them in the microwave with a wet paper towel over it."
Don't let them go to waste!
We get it: There are only so many ways to make a turkey sandwich before it gets boring. However, when you think outside two pieces of bread, you can get creative with how you repurpose and reinvent your Thanksgiving leftovers over the next few days. Make a soup with the turkey, use the veggies in a brunch tart for a crowd-pleasing meal, try your hand at a homemade breakfast hash, or make bite-sized appetizers that could feed your family on Black Friday (perfect for a low-stress meal after shopping all day). Whatever you decide to do, there are ways to enjoy your turkey and stuffing beyond how they were originally served. Get creative, and we bet you can use up more of your leftovers than you think!
Now that you know how long you can safely keep your Turkey Day leftovers in the fridge, you'll be able to enjoy the holiday foods for multiple meals—without the risk of getting sick. If you need some meal ideas to make wit your leftovers.