'Dishes can wait, but the food can't': Here's how long Thanksgiving leftovers can stay out


The holidays are known for quality time with family, traditional recipes and the not so fun food poisoning outbreaks if you don’t refrigerate your leftovers quickly.

According to the CDC, food poisonings from Clostridium perfringens bacteria occur the most in November and December.

Why? The bacteria grows on food left out at room temperature and most outbreaks are linked to turkey and roast beef.

“Food-borne illnesses are no joke,” Lisa Yakas, a senior project manager at NSF International, told USA TODAY previously.

Food poisoning symptoms can show up 6 to 24 hours after eating and ruin some of your holiday time. Here’s how to avoid it:

How long should Thanksgiving food remain out? Less than 2 hours

Leftovers shouldn’t be left at room temperature for longer than two hours. So after you’re done eating your holiday meal, getting the food put away should be a priority, Yakas says.

“The dishes can wait, but the food can’t,” she says.

When you’re putting away leftovers, take the time to portion them out into small containers, preferably ones that are airtight, Yakas says.

Looking for a turkey replacement?:Chefs share their tasty Thanksgiving alternatives

Thanksgiving dinner:How are inflation and higher grocery prices affecting your holiday meal?

Putting large masses of food into a refrigerator or freezer is ineffective because it takes a long time for the food to cool, Yakas says.

How long is cooked turkey good for? Just a few days, unless it’s frozen

Once the leftovers are put away in the refrigerator, you have only a few days to eat them before they become a safety risk.

If stored in a refrigerator, leftovers can stay good for three to four days. If they’re stored in a freezer, it’s three to four months.

It’s best to label the food with an expiration date when you put it away, to help you keep track of when it’s no longer safe to eat, Yakas recommends.

That’s especially true of food that you put in the freezer, as it’s tough to remember how long food has been stored months into the future.

What temperature should your food be? 165 degrees

Putting away leftovers correctly won’t keep you healthy if you don’t cook the food correctly the first time.

There’s only one number to remember whether you’re cooking the food the first time or reheating it: 165 degrees.

The CDC recommends heating all leftovers to 165 degrees before eating them.

Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: agilbert@usatoday.com.

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