If you are like most people, you are going to have holiday leftovers to eat for at least a few days after the holiday season is over. Typically, we cook/purchase so much food in hopes that our guests won’t be hungry, that we purchase too much food – all in the name of being a good guest. Here at The City Market, we want you to enjoy your leftovers, but we also want you to enjoy them without running the risk of getting sick – and that’s where proper, leftover storage comes in. Below is everything you need to know to ensure your leftovers are just as tasty as the day you ate them.
The USDA suggests refrigerating hot food within two hours of removing it from an appliance used to keep it warm (e.g. a slow cooker set on the warm setting, inside an oven set on the low position, etc.). This is because hot food must be kept at approximately 140ºF/60ºC to prevent bacteria from growing. If food is left sitting longer than two hours, it must be thrown away.
As for cold food, it should be kept below 40ºF/4ºC. If it is left at room temperature for over two hours, it must be thrown away. Again, this prevents bacterial growth from growing in the food, allowing you to safely consume your leftovers at a later date.
Store leftovers properly
No matter if you are storing cold chicken salad or warm pork, there’s only one way to store your leftovers: in an airtight, container/wrap that will not leak. Real Simple also suggests dividing leftovers into small, flat containers – in other words, don’t stuff as many leftovers as possible into large containers. Rather, store your leftovers in small-to-medium-sized flat, plastic containers to ensure your leftovers stay fresh and bacteria-free for as long as possible.
No matter what you are storing, this is the only way you should store it. While you may be tempted to store canned foods (such as cranberry sauce) in your refrigerator by simply placing plastic wrap over the top of the can, don’t do this. Everything must be stored in a flat, airtight container to eliminate the risk of food-related illnesses.
Don’t stock your refrigerator full of leftovers
While you may have a lot of leftovers to store at home, that doesn’t mean you should stock your refrigerator full of them. Cool air needs to properly circulate in your refrigerator, and if it is full of food, this will not happen. If you happen to take a lot of leftovers home, be sure that you throw away unnecessary items in your refrigerator. For example, if you have some leftovers that have been sitting in your refrigerator for weeks, consider throwing them out to make room for your new leftovers. The less items you can have in your refrigerator, the better the air will circulate.
Eat within a few days
By eating your leftovers within 3-4 days, you will ensure bacteria will not grow in the food. Yet, if you can’t eat everything, there’s no need to worry: simply freeze your leftovers and eat them within a few weeks. Because bacteria cannot grow at freezer temperatures, this eliminates the risk altogether.
Leftovers are one of the many perks of the holiday season. Even so, you need to be smart when storing them. Use our tips above, and you and your family will have the luxury of enjoying great food a second time around!