The holiday season brings together family, friends, fun, and foods that fill up your fridge and kitchen pantry cabinet! But what do you do with all of the remaining delicious eats? Don’t let great food to go waste – simply store them for later! But take care of your leftovers and store them safely to prevent illness or food spoiling. Read more to find out the best ways you can safely store your leftovers.
1. Cook Correctly
The first step in safely storing leftovers is cooking food to a safe internal temperature. Red meats such as beef, pork, chops, and roasts should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured with a thermometer. Let meat sit for at least three minutes before carving or eating. Grounds meats should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and poultry should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Stay Out Of The “Danger Zone”
Bacteria grow between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot foods should be rapidly refrigerated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends refrigerating leftovers within two hours of cooking or heating time. Throw away all foods that have been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours. In other words, it’s best to keep your kitchen organized, and clean up immediately after meals.
3. Cooling Food Quickly
Store all remaining foods in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible to prevent bacteria growth. The safe storage temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. It’s a best practice to divide large amounts of food into smaller, shallow containers and cut large portions into smaller pieces, which helps the food cool more rapidly.
4. Wrap And Store Safely
Leftovers should not be kept in the kitchen pantry cabinet – they belong in the fridge or freezer. Cover all leftovers by wrapping them in airtight packaging or in storage containers. This keeps bacteria and odors away while retaining moisture. The general rule is that leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, and in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Note that frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored longer.
5. Thawing Thoroughly
Carefully thaw leftovers through a variety of options. Use the refrigerator, cold water, or microwave, although the fridge is the best option. After thawing, food should be eaten within 3 to 4 days. For cold water thawing in the kitchen sink, place leftovers in a leak-proof container or plastic bag. If it leaks, water can get inside, and bacteria from the outside can contaminate the food.
6. Reheating Reliably
Make sure all leftovers are reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, internally measured with a food thermometer. Soups, sauces, and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil. Cover all food while reheating so that it retains moisture and heats evenly. When possible, stir foods in between reheating.
7. Storing Smart Portions
Sometimes leftovers can last a few meals. That’s why it’s smart to divide large batches of leftovers into smaller portions before freezing. Doing so allows you to spread out your meals with less waste, so you’ll spend less time cooking and more time enjoying dinner in your kitchen. When dealing with the leftovers of leftovers, be sure to follow the safety steps above, and keep plenty of storage containers tucked inside your kitchen cabinets.
Love your leftovers and they’ll love you back! Don’t let your festive feasts go to waste. Eat and enjoy them safely.
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