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How long can I store my Thanksgiving leftovers?

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It's been a few days since the Thanksgiving feast had us in a food induced coma. Now the question is what to do with the leftovers that everyone swears are better on the second day? How long you can continue to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers depends on how you store them in the first place.

The goal is to minimize the time foods stay in the so-called “danger zone,” a temperature range of 40 F to 140 F in which illness-causing bacteria flourish. To curtail bacteria from multiplying, store leftovers in the fridge within two hours after Thanksgiving dinner is finished cooking. Foods that sit at room temperature longer than two hours should be thrown out.

Hot foods can be placed directly in the refrigerator. But first, divide large quantities of hot foods into smaller portions so they’ll cool quickly to a food-safe temperature. Store soups and casseroles in smaller shallow containers for quicker cooling. Cut a whole turkey into smaller pieces and slice or cut a roast or ham into smaller parts. Store leftover turkey and stuffing in separate containers.  

Wrap leftovers well in airtight packaging or storage containers to keep bacteria out and prevent leftovers from drying out. And don’t overstuff your fridge. Cold air needs to circulate above and beneath food to keep it properly chilled.

Most leftovers can be kept for three to four days in the fridge. If you have more food than you plan to eat within four days, freeze within two hours after it’s cooked. When you’re ready to eat your leftovers, reheat them to an internal temperature of 165 F, measured by a digital food thermometer.

Reheating leftovers to a safe temperature destroys bacteria that may have been introduced since last cooking. Bring soups and gravies to a rolling boil. If you reheat in the microwave, rotate or stir the food partway through to ensure the heat is evenly distributed. 

Use the chart below to figure out how long Turkey Day foods will last. 

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