Preparing extra food certainly comes in handy when you don’t feel like cooking. However, making sure those leftovers are safe to eat requires special handling. Whether its leftovers or making a fresh pot of soup, there are four core food safety steps to help prevent the growth of pathogens. Pathogens are disease-causing microorganisms which can cause foodborne illness. Click here to learn about the four core steps – clean, separate, cook, and chill – at the Fight Bac!® Partnership for Food Safety Education website from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
So what is your plan for leftovers? Do you want to eat them in a few days or store in the freezer for later use? Either way, there are three key steps to make sure they are safe to eat. Food used for leftovers, must be properly cooked, chilled, and reheated.
All food, no matter whether it will be eaten right away or stored, must be cooked to the proper minimum internal cooking temperature. Click here for a chart of safe minimum internal cooking temperatures from Food Safety.gov. Once the food has been properly cooked, it must be promptly cooled to prevent the growth of pathogens. Pathogens grow rapidly at room temperature, commonly known as the danger zone. The danger zone is between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. Cooked food should be divided into smaller portions and refrigerated or frozen for quick cooling. Use small containers no deeper than four-inches or individually wrap portions.
Leftovers can be safely stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. Frozen food can be stored in the freezer for an indefinite amount of time as long as the frozen temperature is maintained. However, for best quality it should be used within six months depending on the food. Click here for a chart of storage times for the refrigerator and freezer from Food Safety.gov. Reheat leftover food in the oven, on top of the stove, or in a microwave. The food must reach a minimum internal temperature of 165° F, best determined using a food thermometer. Liquids such as soups, gravies, and sauces should be brought to a full rolling boil before eating.
Leftover food should be handled with the same care as any other food; safely to prevent foodborne illness. As you enjoy those quick and easy go-to-meals, be mindful of the core steps for keeping food safe – clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Looking for some recipes to use leftover turkey? Click here for 5 Ways to Use Leftover Turkey from USDA.