- Most leftovers shouldn’t stay in the fridge for longer than three to four days, the federal food and health agencies say.
- Leftovers that are stored in the freezer can last much longer. The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service pointing three to four months as a good limit.
- When reheating leftovers, make sure the food reaches 165 degrees.
If you cooked a Thanksgiving feast last week, chances are you have plenty of leftovers. But don’t wait too long to eat or freeze them.
Cooked turkey and other leftovers can be kept in the fridge safely for about three to four days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FoodSafety.gov say.
But after that time, “the risk of food poisoning goes up,” the Mayo Clinic notes, pointing to the growth of bacteria in refrigerated leftovers.
This means that the Monday after Thanksgiving marks a “‘use or freeze’ deadline,” FoodSafety.gov says. If you don’t eat or freeze your leftovers by then, it’s safest to throw them away.
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How long can leftovers stay in the fridge?
Again, most leftovers shouldn’t stay in the fridge for more than three to four days, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service notes.
For more specifics, the USDA’s FSIS launched the FoodKeeper app, which consumers can consult and use to set reminders when navigating if food is still safe to eat.
How long can leftovers be frozen?
If you store leftovers in the freezer, they will last longer. According to FoodSafety.gov, frozen leftovers “will be of best quality within 2-6 months.” USDA’s FSIS says three to four months is a good limit for frozen food.
“Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer,” USDA’s FSIS writes.
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Can I tell if refrigerated food is spoiled?
If food is left longer in the fridge than it should, sometimes it will develop a strange taste or smell from spoilage bacteria, FoodSafety.gov says. But it’s not always possible to tell.
Bacteria often don’t change a food’s appearance, taste or smell, the Mayo Clinic notes – making it hard to tell if food is safe to eat.
How soon should I store my food after eating it?
There’s not just a deadline for how long food lasts in the fridge. After cooking and eating your holiday meal, it’s best to store it as soon as possible.
Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking food, the CDC and FoodSafety.gov say.
“Seventy-six percent of respondents in a recent USDA study said they would refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature first. This is not necessary and could actually make your food unsafe,” FoodSafety.gov wrote. “Leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, even if they still have steam or heat coming off of them.”
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While it’s not necessary to wait for food to cool completely, there are some tips to help your food cool faster. When storing large dishes like a roast turkey, for example, The USDA’s FSIS recommends dividing the leftovers into smaller portions across shallow containers.
What about re-heating leftovers?
Make sure to reheat leftovers to 165 degrees before eating them, the USDA notes. You can check the temperature using a food thermometer.
Frozen leftovers need to be thawed before cooking – but don’t just leave them to thaw on the counter, notes the Mayo Clinic. You can thaw leftovers in the fridge, microwave, or with a leakproof container under cold water.
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And again, after thawing, you have three to four days to eat or refreeze your food, the USDA notes.
Contributing: Marina Pitofsky, USA TODAY.