July 15, 2024

Thanksgiving Leftovers: How to Handle Them so You Don’t Get Sick

The USDA is offering tips on how to handle Thanksgiving leftovers so you and your family don’t get sick. It is now four days after Thanksgiving, which means that today is the day all of the leftover food from that holiday should be either eaten or frozen for food safety reasons.


Fridge with FoodThanksgiving LeftoversFirst, remember to keep food out of the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F. That’s the temperature range where bacteria grow most rapidly. All of your Thanksgiving food should have been refrigerated within two hours of finishing cooking or being taken out of the fridge.

All of the food should be cooled quickly. Never put the whole turkey back into the fridge, since it can take a long to cool to a safe temperature. Cut the turkey into pieces, slice the breast, and place the meat into shallow containers.

Make sure that all of your leftovers are sealed in airtight packaging or storage containers. This will help retain moisture, keep bacteria out, and stop odors from circulating in the fridge.

When you freeze food, make sure that you clearly mark the containers with what’s in it, the date it was frozen, and how to reheat. Thanksgiving leftovers should last in the fridge for about four months. They will still be safe to eat as long as they are kept frozen until just before reheating, but the foods will lose moisture and flavor over longer time periods.

When you reheat Thanksgiving leftovers, make sure that they are heated to at least 165°F and measure that temperature with a reliable and accurate food thermometer. Reheat sauces and gravies to a rolling boil (remember the problems with Clostridium perfringens with these types of foods).

And if you have any food safety questions, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 and talk to a food safety expert. Or you can chat live at AskKareni.gov Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET.

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