Thanksgiving Leftovers Stored in the Fridge Safe to Eat until Tuesday

So we’ve got a lot of food leftover from yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast. How long can we safely eat them?

Thanksgiving leftovers stored in the fridge safe to eat until the Tuesday after turkey day.

I’m happy to tell you that you can eat turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, turkey omelets, turkey soup, turkey pot pie, turkey salad, turkey quesadillas, turkey tetrazzini and many other fun, tasty turkey-based dishes safely for up to four days after the big meal if you stored your leftover turkey in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking.

And, if you choose to store the leftover turkey in the freezer, you can feast on that turkey, well, forever. While the taste and texture of the frozen meat will decline after about four months, turkey that is correctly prepped for frozen storage is safe to eat indefinitely, says the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The federal agency recommends that you remove the turkey from the bone, slice it into smaller pieces and store it in small containers if you plan to eat it within four days. If you want to store the turkey longer, you should pack it into freezer bags or other airtight containers and place it in the freezer.

For the other leftover foods, you should cover and wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers for storage in the refrigerator. This helps to keep bacteria out, retain moisture, and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator, USDA says. Leftover food refrigerated this way is also safe to eat up to four days.

Taking care to store leftovers correctly can help you avoid getting a bad case of foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clostridium perfringens is one of the bacteria that can grow in cooked foods that are left at room temperature for too long after cooking. It also produces toxins that cannot be inactivated by reheating the foods.

In fact, C. perfringens is the second most common bacteria causing foodborne infections. As many as one million individuals are affected by C. perfringens each year, according to the CDC. Perfringens food poisoning symptoms include severe abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea and flatulence within six to 24 hours after eating foods that contain high numbers of bacterial cells.

Another interesting fact: Clostridium perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December, with many of the outbreaks linked to turkey and roast beef.

Other tips from USDA for Thanksgiving leftovers include:

  • Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.
  • Don’t store stuffing inside a leftover turkey. Remove the stuffing from the turkey and refrigerate the stuffing and the meat separately.
  • When reheating cooked foods, be sure to use a food thermometer to make sure they have been heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remember, while you are getting creative in how to serve up those Turkey Day leftovers, keep food safety in mind so that you, your family and any guests who want to feast on grandma’s special recipe green bean casserole or other traditional holiday favorites, can do so safely.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Food Safety State Specialist, Ohio State University Extension.

Don’t Stuff the Bird

My mom and grandma have always cooked the stuffing in the turkey each Thanksgiving. But now, I hear that practice should be avoided – why is that?  

It’s best not to cook your stuffing inside your turkey.

Despite long held traditions in many families, it’s best not to cook your stuffing inside your turkey.

This is because uncooked poultry can harbor bacterial pathogens, which can be present both on the inside and outside of a raw turkey. And the only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacterium is to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, using a digital tip-sensitive meat thermometer to ensure that the bird has reached this temperature.

If you want to use a dial thermometer, it is important to calibrate it first, said Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

“Pop-up timers are not very reliable, so it is best to verify doneness with a digital tip-sensitive thermometer,” she said.

To measure the temperature of the turkey, you should insert the meat thermometer into three areas of the turkey to measure its internal temperature: in the thickest part of the turkey breast, in the innermost part of the wing and in the innermost part of the turkey thigh.

The concern is that placing the stuffing into the center of the raw turkey exposes the stuffing to those bacterial pathogens throughout the cooking process, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The stuffing, which is traditionally moist and made with bread or cornbread, is very porous. So as the turkey cooks, juices that may contain bacterial pathogens such as salmonella may be absorbed into the stuffing during the cooking process. Unless the stuffing is also cooked to an internal temperature of 165, it is unsafe to eat.

Even if the turkey itself has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees, the stuffing may not have reached a temperature high enough to destroy bacteria that may be present, USDA says.

The safest route is to cook your stuffing separate from the turkey and then place it inside the fully cooked turkey if you want to soak up some of the rich, delicious flavor of the turkey.

Other food safety tips from USDA for turkey day:

  • Don’t wash your turkey. Washing raw meat and poultry products just spreads bacteria around your kitchen, increasing the risk for contaminating other products and making your family sick. The only way to destroy bacteria on your turkey is to cook it to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Don’t leave the food out on the buffet table all day on Thanksgiving. It’s best to serve the food hot. Bacteria can grow rapidly on food that’s left out for more than two hours after cooking. If you have guests that will come over throughout the day, it’s best to keep the food in heated chafing dishes to keep the food out of the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which can encourage bacteria to multiply rapidly.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Barbara Kowalcyk, an assistant professor in Food Science and Technology for CFAES.

Talkin’ Turkey: Three Ways to Safely Thaw and Cook Frozen Turkey

It’s my first time hosting Thanksgiving, but I’m not sure when I should start thawing the turkey or even how to thaw it – what do I do?

Following safe thawing methods for turkey is necessary to prevent the potential growth of bacterial pathogens that may have been present on the bird before it was frozen, USDA says.

If you are planning to cook a frozen turkey this year for the Thanksgiving holiday, you need to make sure that you thaw and cook it safely to help your guests avoid developing foodborne illnesses.

There are three safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey: in the refrigerator, in a container of cold water, or in a microwave, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Following safe thawing methods for turkey is necessary to prevent the potential growth of bacterial pathogens that may have been present on the bird before it was frozen, USDA says.

And while there are three ways to safely thaw your bird, USDA recommends thawing it in the refrigerator as the best method because it allows the turkey to thaw in a controlled environment out of the temperature “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees — where bacteria can multiply rapidly.

Turkeys thawed in the refrigerator take one day for each 4-5 pounds of weight. So, for example, if your turkey weighs 12 pounds, it can take three days to thaw. But, once thawed, you should cook the turkey within two days to ensure safety.

If you find yourself needing to thaw the turkey using a faster method, you can place it in a container or sink and submerge it in cold water. It’s important that the turkey stay cold, so you need to ensure that the turkey is completely submerged in cold water by replacing the water with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Turkeys thawed using this method will need 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound.

Also, keep the turkey in its original wrapping while thawing, USDA advises, and consider a secondary container to catch juices and condensation as the bird defrosts.

If you want to thaw your turkey in the microwave, you will need to take it out of its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe dish. Use the defrost function based on the turkey’s weight, USDA says. Generally, allow six minutes per pound to thaw. Once the turkey has thawed, you should cook it immediately.

Other safe turkey tips from USDA:

  • Don’t wash your turkey! Why? Because bacterial pathogens, which can be present both on the inside and outside of a raw turkey, cannot be washed off. The only way to destroy this potentially dangerous bacterium is to cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Washing your turkey or other raw poultry will increase the chance that you spray pathogens over other parts of your kitchen, potentially contaminating your cooking area and sink.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your cooked turkey and make sure it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. You should insert the thermometer into three areas of the turkey to measure its internal temperature: in the thickest part of the turkey breast, in the innermost part of the wing and in the innermost part of the turkey thigh.
  • Refrigerate your Thanksgiving leftovers within one hour of eating to prevent any pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses from growing.

Happy Turkey Day!

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was edited by Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor and food safety field specialist for CFAES.

Careful: Some of that Halloween Candy Haul Can Send Some Folks to the Hospital

Can eating too much black licorice really cause heart problems?

Black licorice candy.

In some cases, for some people, yes.

Halloween may be over, but some of the candy gathered during trick or treat could still land some people in the hospital.

That’s according to a warning this week from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that says that people over 40 who eat 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could experience an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia that could land them in the hospital.

Black licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root, FDA says. The problem is that glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, causing some people to experience abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy and congestive heart failure, FDA said in its advisory.

The issue is primarily a concern for people over 40, some of whom have had a history of heart disease and or high blood pressure, according to FDA. The agency said that potassium levels are usually restored in people with no permanent health problems once the person stops eating black licorice.

So, if you like eating black licorice, it’s best that you don’t eat large amounts of it at one time – regardless of how old you are, FDA says.

They also advise people who experience irregular heart rhythms or muscle weakness to stop eating it immediately and contact your doctor. And lastly, it’s important to know that black licorice can interact with some medications and dietary supplements, so talk to your pharmacist or doctor to be sure none of the medications you take may be impacted.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for OSU Extensio