CLEMSON — Making the most of Thanksgiving leftovers is practically an American tradition on its own. Practicing safe food handling of leftovers is just as important as the main meal preparations and requires planning and good practices, said Adair Hoover, a Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service food-safety agent.

Safe and secure. Thanksgiving leftovers need  to be stored at 40 degrees or lower.

Safe and secure: Thanksgiving leftovers need to be stored at 40 degrees or lower.
Image Credit: USDA Photo Library

The following guidelines will help you maximize your leftovers for post-Thanksgiving meals and snacks.

  • Don’t allow food to stand at room temperature for more than two hours. This can be especially hard to do on Thanksgiving Day, but is essential for safety and quality. Foodborne pathogens can multiply quickly in the temperature danger zone (40-140 degrees Fahrenheit), and bacteria can easily double every 20 minutes in food that is held at room temperature.
  • Prepare your refrigerator in advance. Clear out as much food as possible in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Have an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator so that you can accurately monitor the temperature and confirm that it is consistently maintained at 40 degrees or below. It is also smart to lower the refrigerator temperature to between 34 and 36 degrees on Thanksgiving morning. This will help to compensate for frequent opening and closing of the door.
  • Cool down hot foods before refrigerating. Hot foods should be transferred to shallow dishes before refrigeration. If you have a particularly large pot of hot food, speed up the cooling process by placing the pot in an ice water bath before you transfer to shallow containers.
  • Don’t overload the refrigerator. Refrigerators are most efficient when there is space for cold air to circulate throughout. Over-packing can affect quality and safety of cold foods.
  • Plan to eat leftovers within four days.
  • Freeze any items that you don’t think you will be able to use within four days. Frozen foods stay safe indefinitely when the temperature is maintained below zero degrees Fahrenheit. However, quality will decline over time. For storage guidelines go to: HGIC 3522 Food Storage: Refrigerator & Freezer.
  • Reheat food properly. When reheating foods, bring sauces, soups and gravies to a rolling boil. Solid foods should be reheated to 165 degrees. Foods reheated in the oven should be cooked above 325 degrees.

Follow these leftover guidelines, and you will be able to safely feast for days.