Phone: 612-624-5551
24-hr number: 612-293-0831

Advanced Search

This is an archived story; this page is not actively maintained. Some or all of the links within or related to this story may no longer work.

For the latest University of Minnesota news, visit Discover.


A Thanksgiving feast

Don't store leftover turkey in the fridge for more than three or four days.

Food safety: Thanksgiving leftovers

By Suzanne Driessen

From eNews, November 8, 2007

Thanksgiving usually means a time to gather with family and friends, turn on some football, pig out--like you haven't since last Thanksgiving--and for you refrigerator to be will filled with leftover food.

Before reheating leftovers Determine that they are safe to eat. Were the leftovers refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking? If not, throw them out. Were the leftovers cooled properly, i.e. turkey and ham sliced into smaller portions and other leftovers cooled quickly in shallow pans less than two inches deep? How long have they been in the refrigerator?

Here's a list of how common leftovers and recommended refrigerator storage times:

Before using leftover food Check the temperature of the food to make sure that it was refrigerated at or below 40 degrees F. One out of four home refrigerators are too warm. Keep your refrigerator at 36-38 degrees F so the food is held at 40 degrees F or below. Don't pack the refrigerator--cool air must circulate to keep food safe.

When using the microwave It's tempting to throw the plastic container with the leftover food in the microwave to reheat. Unless the container is labeled microwave safe, take the time to put the food on a plate.

"Cool Whip," cottage cheese containers, margarine tubs and most plastic storage containers are not heat stable. Chemicals from the plastic may absorb into the food during heating. Microwave plastic wraps, wax paper, cooking bags, parchment paper, and white microwave-safe paper towels are safe to use. Do not let plastic wrap touch foods when you microwave. Never use thin plastic storage bags, brown paper or plastic grocery bags, newspapers, or aluminum foil in the microwave oven.

Turkey tips

Read Talking turkey from eNews, November 11, 2004.

Listen to Kathy Brandt, a food science educator with the U of M Extension Services, talk about the safety measures you should take when preparing turkey.

Microwaves tend to heat unevenly. So arrange food items evenly in a covered dish and add some liquid if needed. Cover the dish with a lid or plastic wrap; loosen or vent the lid or wrap to let steam escape. The moist heat helps destroy harmful bacteria and ensures uniform cooking. Stir or rotate food midway through the heating time to eliminate cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive. After reheating food in the microwave, cover and allow food to stand for 2 minutes before eating. Then, use a clean food thermometer to check that food has reached 165 degrees Farenheit.

I've often found food stuck in the back of my refrigerator and asked myself, "How long has that been there?" If you don't remember how long it's been there, remember the old adage, "when in doubt, throw it out."

Suzanne Driessen is a University of Minnesota Extension educator specializing in food safety.