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Thanksgiving leftover safety 

How to store and reheat your holiday dishes

LEFTOVERS ARE ONE OF the best parts of Thanksgiving. They’re a great way to reduce food waste and save money. Some foods are even better as leftovers as the flavors intensify, such as key lime pie, or meld together more, such as beef stew. 

But leftovers are best enjoyed when they’ve been stored safely. The United States Department of Agriculture offers the following tips to keep your food fresh and your family healthy. 

First, use a thermometer to cook food: Roasts and steaks of pork, beef, veal and lamb should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees; ground meats should reach 155 degrees, while poultry should reach 165 degrees. 

After foods are safely cooked, they should be kept hot at 140 degrees and used within two hours of cooking. To cool foods that need to be refrigerated, place in shallow containers. If the dish is too large or too deep, it won’t cool as quickly and provides the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply. 

It’s not necessary to cool your leftovers to room temperature first. Newer refrigerators can cool food very quickly as long it’s stored in those shallow containers. Bacteria thrive between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, so it’s important to get those leftovers chilled quickly. Set your refrigerator at 34 to 40 degrees for best results. 

Most leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. Always label containers with the date prepared to keep foodborne illness away. You can also freeze most food for up to three months in air-tight containers. 

When it’s time to reheat, temperature is everything. Thawing in the refrigerator is the best way to start the process of reusing your frozen leftovers. But for faster thawing, placing a container in cold water or microwave thawing are good options. Then cook immediately to a safe temperature of 165 degrees to kill any lingering bacteria that might be present. 

If you have gone to the expense and time to prepare good food, presenting leftovers for a meal at a later date is a great reuse of your resources. Just make sure to prepare your leftovers safely to prevent foodborne illness.

SANDRA BASTIN is professor of dietetics and human nutrition at the University of Kentucky 

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