Food safety tips for Thanksgiving leftovers

WASHINGTON — A lot of thought goes into the Thanksgiving meal — from how to cook the turkey to who will make the pies. But when it is all over a new challenge presents itself: what to do with all the leftovers.

Experts say cooked food can only remain at room temperature for about two hours. That means the process of storing those leftovers can’t wait until after that late football game.

“For things like the turkey, you want to make sure you cut it up into smaller pieces and store it in shallow containers,” says Kristina Beaugh with the USDA’s Food Safety Education staff.

She says stuffing needs to come out of the bird and be stored separately, as should other cooked items. Some people prefer to use glass containers, while others opt for plastic, but Beaugh says any closed container will work, as long as it has a tight lid with a good seal.

Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days — meaning you can have turkey sandwiches throughout the holiday weekend.

“If you are not going to eat it by that time, put it in the freezer,” says Beaugh, noting it can be stored that way for months without any loss of quality.

Most cookies and breads can sit out at room temperature if well wrapped. That goes for fruit pies, too, although any pie that has a cream or custard base should be refrigerated.

A good way to get information on the freshness and edibility of food and beverage items is to use an app developed by USDA called “FoodKeeper.” It’s free, available for Apple and Android devices, and Beaugh says it is useful throughout the year — not just on Thanksgiving.

And if you’re looking for good recipes for those Thanksgiving leftovers, click here.

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