The feast is over, your family is satisfied and the stretch pants are set aside for the next holiday meal. But now you’ve got all these leftovers in your fridge.
The big question is: How long will this food last?
First off, leftovers need to be in the refrigerator within two hours of dinnertime, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department says the safe storage temperature is 40° F or below.
To quickly chill hot food off the stove, you may want to place the pan directly in an ice bath in a clean sink before storing it in the fridge.
Because it’s so important to cool your food quickly if you want it to keep, the USDA advises that you split large amounts of food into shallow containers. The longer food takes to cool, the more bacteria will multiply and increase the danger of foodborne illness, according to health officials.
Wrap your leftovers well. The USDA recommends you cover up your leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging or seal them in storage containers. This way, you can keep out the bacteria and the odors from other food in the fridge. It also prevents the food from drying out.
After you’ve stored it, the USDA says food lasts in the refrigerator for three to four days or, if it’s frozen, three to four months. Just remember that a long time in the freezer might cost the food its moisture and flavor.
The best ways to thaw frozen leftovers are the refrigerator and the microwave oven. Thawing with cold water is also safe, but it’ll require more effort.
Refrigerator thawing takes the longest, but the USDA says leftovers stay safe the entire time. Food you thaw in the fridge should be used within three to four days or refrozen.
If you’re thawing your leftovers in the microwave, make sure the food reaches 165° F. As long as you have heated it to that temperature, the USDA says you can refreeze the food.
You don’t actually need to thaw your leftovers at all before reheating, according to the USDA, though it will obviously take longer to cook than if you had thawed the food. Just make sure the food heats all the way through and reaches that safe temperature of 165° F.
For more recommendations on handling leftovers safely, you can visit fsis.usda.gov.