Food safety tips for those holiday dinner leftovers

WASHINGTON – After the big feast comes all those Thanksgiving leftovers.

Some would argue that the best part of the holiday may be those day-after turkey sandwiches, perhaps with some stuffing and cranberry sauce on the side.

But eat up this weekend because by Monday, any remnants of the Thanksgiving meal still in the refrigerator need to be pitched or moved to the freezer.

“The storage time in the refrigerator is only three to four days,” says Tina Hanes with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline. She says if you have a lot of leftovers, it is best to store some directly after the big holiday meal in the freezer in covered, shallow containers.

Her favorite storage technique is to make up individual meals — with single portions of turkey, sweet potatoes and the like. But she adds there is nothing wrong with taking an extra casserole and freezing it whole for later use.

Most cooked foods can keep indefinitely in the freezer. But Hanes says they lose quality over time, and it is best to use up frozen leftovers within three to four months.

While turkey, ham, sweet potatoes and stuffing all freeze well, there are some other foods that are safe to eat when frozen but undergo changes in taste and texture.

Hanes says anything with mayonnaise in it or sour cream won’t freeze well. And although frozen cranberries are sold in grocery stores, frozen cranberry sauce tends to become a “watery goopy mess,” she says.

The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is open all year round to answer questions about food preparation and safety. Information is also available at

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