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Food safety tips for Thanksgiving leftovers

Thanksgiving leftovers rank at the top of the “best of” Thanksgiving list. Who can resist a fabulous turkey sandwich with cranberries, gravy and stuffing? However, before you bite into that tasty masterpiece, think about this: Each year, over 400,000 people suffer from food poisoning after consuming Thanksgiving leftovers. Follow these food safety tips to avoid becoming a miserable statistic.

food safety tips for thanksgiving leftovers

Sometimes, Thanksgiving leftovers are better than the actual Thanksgiving meal. However, the leftover goodness doesn’t seem so great if you’re struck with food poisoning. Believe it or not, over 400,000 people get food poisoning from Thanksgiving leftovers each year.

Food poisoning after Thanksgiving — or any time of the year — is no fun. The FDA recently sent out a press release directing people to its website on food safety tips for healthy holidays. Perhaps the FDA says it best: “Parties, family dinners, and other gatherings where food is served are all part of the holiday cheer. But the merriment can change to misery if food makes you or others ill.”

Don’t become a statistic

Hoping not to become one of the 400,000 sickies? Sounds like a good plan. Use these food safety tips from the FDA to avoid foodborne illness.

1. Keep it clean

  • Wash your hands properly
  • Wash surfaces where food has been placed
  • Properly rinse fruits and vegetables
  • Do not wash your Thanksgiving turkey

Find out how to ruin a Thanksgiving turkey >>

2. Avoid cross-contamination

  • Separate raw food from food that you will cook
  • Use two different cutting boards: one for raw food that will not be cooked and one for food that will be cooked
  • Don’t place cooked meat on plates or surfaces where the meat sat when it was still raw

Learn how to avoid cross-contamination while cooking in this short video >>

3. Cook your food properly

  • Do not rely on your sight to determine whether the meat is properly cooked — just because meat looks done doesn’t mean it is cooked through
  • Ensure sauce, soup and gravy reaches a rolling boil when you reheat
  • Never consume raw cookie dough

The FDA suggests the following: “Insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165 degrees F. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165 degrees F.”

4. Handle the stuffing with care

  • Stuff the stuffing at the right time: immediately before you cook the bird
  • Cook the stuffing to a minimum of 165 degrees F. — whether inside the turkey or outside
  • Stuff the turkey lightly

Scared of the stuffing? Try these Thanksgiving turkey stuffing alternatives >>

After the big day

Assuming you’ve followed the basics for preparing your Thanksgiving dinner, don’t overlook the importance of properly handling the food after the meal has ended. Follow these food safety tips to avoid turning your Thanksgiving leftovers into bacteria breeding grounds.

  • WebMD reports that the “danger zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees F. — meaning that if your food sits at these temperatures for too long, it’s at risk of becoming contaminated with bacteria that can run rampant.
  • Do not leave food at room temperature for more than two hours max. If you happen to be at Grandma’s house and she’s a fan of keeping the heater cranked, food cannot sit at room temperature for longer than one hour when the room temperature is 90 degrees F. or greater.
  • The sooner you can get your Thanksgiving leftovers to the fridge, the better. There’s no need to allow the food to cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge.
  • Split Thanksgiving leftovers into small, shallow containers for storage in the refrigerator.

Is your refrigerator clean? >>

When in doubt…

…throw it out. We know, we know. Who wants to throw out those delish foods? You do, as long as you don’t want to spend a few days curled up on the bathroom floor. If you don’t eat properly stored turkey in three days and the gravy in two, toss ’em.

If they’re not safe to eat, try these creative uses for Thanksgiving leftovers >>

Additionally, if you’ve missed the boat on these food safety tips and failed to properly refrigerate your Thanksgiving leftovers in the two-hour window, chuck them in the trash. Better to miss out on that fantastic calorie-laden leftovers sandwich than endure food poisoning.

Remember to follow these food safety tips. Foodborne illnesses are miserable at best and severe or life threatening at worst.

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