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Your Thanksgiving leftovers might make you sick, so follow this rule

Published Nov 29th, 2019 9:35PM EST
thanksgiving food safety
Image: Shutterstock

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Thanksgiving 2019 is finally in the rearview, but there’s a good chance the incredible bounty of food resulted in a container or two of leftovers sitting in your fridge. Day-old turkey, ham, and side dishes can still be pretty tasty, but there’s also a small chance they could leave you with an upset stomach.

The CDC’s advice on Thanksgiving feasts extends to the day after the holiday as well. But even if you were sure to cook your turkey or other meats and sides to the safe temperature, allowing your food to populate your dinner table or countertops for too long could set you up for food poisoning in the days to come.

The CDC says that leaving food out for more than a couple of hours is a recipe for disaster, even if it was well-cooked. Bacteria thrive in room-temperature foods, so if a plate of leftover turkey was left sitting for several hours, only wrapped up and tossed in the fridge after all the relatives cleared out, it could be crawling in bacteria like Clostridium perfringens, which can produce symptoms of food poisoning.

With that in mind, the CDC says that the safest move is to chill leftover food to a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler within two hours of preparation. Additionally, if the food won’t be eaten again for more than a couple of days, it’s better to freeze it than refrigerate it. Frozen leftovers can stay good for months, whereas fridge leftovers will expire within a few days.

When reheating leftover meats of any type, it’s always a good idea to meet the recommended safe cooking temperatures. The CDC has plenty of advice on that front as well.