In addition to full tummies and a lot of dishes to wash, there’s one other thing that Thanksgiving is guaranteed to generate: leftovers. When all the plates have been cleared, there’s usually plenty of food still sitting in bowls and on platters.

Most people do not like to waste food. Besides, leftovers are often just as good to eat over the next couple of days as they were when cooked fresh. Many people enjoy taking leftovers to eat for lunch at school or work.

Leftovers don’t last forever, though. Eating leftovers that have been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time can cause serious illness. But if you know a few simple tips, you can enjoy your leftovers without any worries.

The key to keeping leftovers safe to eat is making sure that harmful bacteria are not allowed to grow on the food. There are several steps you can take to reduce the chances that bacteria will turn your leftovers into a health hazard.

Bacteria grow best at warm temperatures. It only takes a few hours for bacteria to grow on warm food to the point where they can cause illness.

Fortunately, refrigeration cools leftovers and slows down the growth of bacteria. When you cook a meal and have leftovers, be sure to refrigerate the leftovers within two hours of cooking (or within one hour if it’s above 90° F).

It’s OK to let leftover food containers sit out for a little while so they cool down a bit before you put them in the refrigerator. Just don’t let them sit out for hours.

You’ll also want to put leftovers in containers that can be sealed to keep out as much air as possible. Many bacteria travel through the air, so sealing leftovers in airtight containers will also help slow the growth of harmful bacteria.

Another thing to keep in mind is the size of the airtight containers you use. Experts recommend using small, shallow containers to allow for faster cooling in the refrigerator.

If you put a big pot of soup into the refrigerator, the center of the pot could take hours to cool sufficiently, allowing plenty of time for bacteria to grow.

Eating leftovers is a great way to save money and make your food last longer. You do need to think ahead, though, and be realistic about when you plan to eat leftovers.

If you don’t think you’ll eat leftovers within the next four days, you should go ahead and freeze them immediately. To reduce the risk of food poisoning, throw away uneaten refrigerated leftovers after four days.

Remember: You can’t necessarily tell whether food is safe to eat based on smell, look or taste. If you’re not sure about leftovers, err on the safe side and throw them out.

When you’re ready to eat your leftovers, be sure to reheat them properly. Use the stove, an oven or a microwave to heat your leftovers to an internal temperature of at least 165° F.

For thick dishes, such as stews or casseroles, you should stir them to make sure that all parts are heated evenly.

 

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    • Hello, Gracie! Thanks so much for leaving us a comment today! We’re glad you liked this Wonder about leftovers, and we hope you learned a few cool new facts about food safety! It’s an important thing to know about during the holidays and every day! :-)

    • We bet there are LOTS of creative leftover recipes still being eaten all across the country today, Mike! You’re right, too! All the food in the video for this Wonder really did look good! Thank you for hanging out in Wonderopolis today and for leaving us this great comment! :-)

    • Hi, Dennis! Thanks for letting us know what you do with your leftovers! We thought it was really cool to see all the other meals that can be made with leftovers! YUM! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How long do leftovers last?
  • How soon should leftovers be refrigerated after cooking?
  • What’s your favorite way to eat leftover turkey?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to talk turkey? OK… maybe that’s not the best question to ask so soon after Thanksgiving.

But, seriously, you have to do something with that mountain of leftover roast beast, right? You don’t want good food to go to waste.

Of course, you can always stick with the good ol’ standby of cold turkey on bread with some mayo, but there are many other creative things you can do with that turkey.

Grab a friend or parent, head to the kitchen and whip up one of these inventive leftover turkey creations:

 

Still Wondering

Check out Science NetLinks’ Farming 2: Packaging and Transport lesson to learn about the special packaging and transport that many foods require to stay fresh during their journey from the farm to people’s dinner tables.

 

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