Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Storing Holiday Meal Leftovers

All the work you do preparing for the holiday season pays off when your family sits down together to enjoy a wonderful meal. When the meal is over, what do you do with all the leftover food? Many families have traditions that include making sandwiches, soup or chili with the turkey leftovers. Some families continue to feast on the casseroles, salads and vegetable side dishes for days following the big meal. So, how do you keep those tasty dishes safe during the days after a family feast? The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offers ideas focused on keeping holiday meal leftovers safe.

Start preparing your leftovers for storage in the refrigerator or freezer by applying the two hour rule. Simply stated, foods should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how longs foods have been sitting on the table and discard anything that has been out for two hours or more. This leads us to the next rule, use shallow containers when storing foods in the refrigerator or freezer.

Divide cooked foods into shallow containers to store in the refrigerator or freezer. The small containers encourage rapid, even cooling. When you reheat the foods, make sure they reach a temperature of 165°F. When it comes to storing leftover turkey, the same rules apply.

Here are the steps to storing leftover turkey. Cut the turkey into small pieces; refrigerate stuffing and turkey separately in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. Use leftover turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days or freeze these foods. Reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 °F or until hot and steaming.

Remember, the USDA does not recommend refrigerating a cooked turkey whole. It could take too long to cool down to a safe temperature.

Maybe you are not planning to prepare every item on your holiday menu from scratch and will purchase and serve take out foods. There are a few safety precautions to remember in this situation as well. First, take the food home immediately. Do not leave take-out foods at room temperature longer than two hours. If the foods are cold when you pick them up, refrigerate them until serving time. If the food is hot, and you will not be eating within two hours, keep it in an oven set at a high enough temperature to keep the food at 140°F. Measure the temperature of the food by inserting a food thermometer. If you are picking up foods far in advance, refrigerate them and reheat later for serving.

Even the pumpkin pie will need to be placed in the refrigerator. Foods made with eggs and milk such as pumpkin pie, custard pie and cheesecake must be refrigerated after baking. Eggs and milk have high protein and moisture content and when these baked products are left at room temperature, conditions are ripe for bacteria to multiply. It is not necessary to refrigerate most other cakes, cookies or breads unless they have a perishable filling or frosting.

Be sure to keep these food safety tips in mind when storing leftovers for friends and family during the holidays and all year long. Be especially diligent about following these safety tips if you have anyone in your family that is in a high risk population. This includes children, pregnant women, older adults, and anyone with a weakened immune system. These people have a greater chance of getting sick from food poisoning and suffering complications.

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