What Should You Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers?

Practicing good food safety habits is the best way to avoid foodborne illnesses.

So with Thanksgiving now a pleasant memory, the question becomes – what to do with all the leftovers?

Katherine Zeratsky, a nutritionist with the Mayo Clinic, advises eating refrigerated turkey within four days. Freeze leftovers you want to keep longer.

She also adds that, in general, perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs should be refrigerated quickly, and not left sitting outside for more than two hours at typical room temperature.

Ms. Zeratsky further recommends that before eating leftovers, they should be reheated in the oven or in the microwave until the internal temperature reaches 165 F (74 C).

Desserts vary in how long they can be kept. Connie Diekman, at nutritionist at Washington University in St. Louis, advised MedPage Today as follows: “Leftover pie depends on the type. Custard pies such as pumpkin last two to three days, but fruit pies will be good for three to five days.”

Suzanne Driessen, a food safety educator at the University of Minnesota in St. Cloud, says that an important factor in safe leftover storage is the temperature of the refrigerator. The temperature danger zone for breeding bacteria is 40° F to 140° F, and accordingly leaving food at those temperatures for more than two hours is dangerous. One out of four home refrigerators are not sufficiently cold. To minimize the risk of foodborne illness, set the temperature control at 36° to 38º to ensure that contents are kept below 40°.

Ultimately, according to the experts, the best policy is “when in doubt, throw it out.”