Some would argue the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. But to enjoy them, properly storing and handling the dishes is important to avoid food poisoning.
Elise Klopfenstein, a clinical dietitian for Henry County Health Center, said the phrase she uses for how to properly store leftovers is “three-day in the fridge, three-months in the freezer.”
“On Day 3, either eat them from the fridge or package and freeze it,” she said.
Beyond Day 3, Klopfenstein said leftovers should be packaged in a freezer safe container and marked with a date to help keep track of its shelf life.
When putting things into the freezer, the dietitian suggests finding containers that will keep food level and are easily stackable. She suggested using cooling racks for several days until food is frozen solid to make sure they freeze evenly.
“If they’re kept horizontally, they won’t freeze unevenly and in clumps. When it’s in chunks, it accrues more moisture,” she explained.
Klopfenstien said making sure food is kept in air-tight containers will help reduce freezer burn. While freezer burn is not an indication of the development of bacteria, it can alter the texture of the food.
“The gaps are where oxygen can enter. You want them sealed tight to eliminate as much oxygen that ice crystals can form from,” she said.
For foods like casseroles, Klopfenstein suggests covering in a layer of aluminum foil in addition to putting the food in a zip-lock bag.
“You have that layer that is tight against the food, and you can seal it shut,” she said.
Klopfenstein added that while plastic containers are often a good choice for storing food in the freezer, the material is easily breakable and people may end up with “cold plastic pieces” if something falls. The jolt could also lead to opportunities for oxygen to enter the container and cause freezer burn.
When ready to enjoy those leftovers, Klopfenstein said people should make sure their food is heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure any bacteria that has been developed will be eliminated.
“You don’t have to eat the food at that temperature, but it has to be reheated to 165. People will have to bust out those thermometers,” she said.
Klopfenstein said people should not consume leftover food if it has been repeatedly thawed and refrozen.
“If it gets warmer than 40 degrees but is cooler than 140, that’s the range where bacteria develops. You either have to start all over with a new product or reheat it again,” she said.
If food has visibly changed in color, Klopfenstein said that is a sign it should be thrown out.
With everyone celebrating the holiday in unusual circumstance this year, Klopfenstein reminded people to “show some grace” to themselves when cooking and remember to enjoy themselves.
“Thanksgiving is the celebration of the harvest. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy family,” she said.