Leftovers (Photo courtesy of Canva)

Leftovers 101: Tips to Avoid Post-Holiday Meal Tummy Aches

December 23, 2023
By Matt Sterner

‘Tis the season when loved ones gather, express gratitude, and bring over a holiday-inspired fruitcake. Does anyone still do that? Either way, if you find yourself undertaking the rewarding yet labor-intensive role of preparing a holiday feast at home, thoughtful planning is crucial before, during, and after the celebration to ensure food safety.

To preserve the cherished memories of the holidays, pay special attention to the post-meal phase — the leftovers. Meals tend to be larger than they need to be at holiday gatherings, so you will likely end up with leftovers to store and enjoy for a couple of days.

a bunch of food sitting on a table
Leftovers (Photo courtesy of Canva)

Here are some tips from FoodSafety.gov to keep that belly of yours in good shape:

The Two-Hour Rule

  • Refrigerate any perishable items within two hours of being removed from the oven or refrigerator. Once two hours have elapsed, these perishable foods enter the Danger Zone, with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 140°F (4°C to 60°C). In this temperature range, bacteria can rapidly multiply, posing a risk to the safety of the food. If any items have been left unrefrigerated for more than two hours, it is advisable to discard them to prevent the potential onset of foodborne illness.
  • Exception to the two-hour rule, if the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (32°C) (like a hot car in Tucson), refrigerate it within one hour.

Use Small and Shallow Containers

  • Store leftover food in small, shallow containers in the refrigerator for four days max. Using shallow containers accelerates the cooling process of leftovers compared to storing them in larger containers.

Freeze or Eat it up Within Four Days

  • To extend the lifespan of leftovers, freeze them within the initial four days for future enjoyment. While frozen food remains safe indefinitely, its quality may diminish over time. For the best quality, consume leftovers stored in the freezer within the range of two to six months. When reheating, ensure leftovers reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Zappin’ it in the Microwave

  • When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Place food evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish, adding liquid if necessary. Due to microwave cold spots, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature in multiple areas after allowing a resting time. Keep in mind that dense foods like whole turkey or beef roast require longer cooking times compared to less dense foods like breads, small vegetables, and fruits.
a plastic container of food
Leftovers (Photo courtesy of Canva)
Give ’em a Call

Did you know there’s even a hotline you can chat with if you’re bored/have more questions about keeping your leftovers fresh? You can give the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline a ring to talk to a food safety expert.

Call 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email at MPHotline@usda.gov, or chat live at ask.usda.gov (available hours of operation vary).

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