How long is too long for holiday leftovers?

I typically make a large turkey (22 pounds) and plenty of trimmings because my family loves Thanksgiving leftovers. How many days after the holiday is the food safe to eat?

Wow, it sounds like your family really loves turkey, as do I!

Many people often wonder how long it is safe to eat leftovers, not just during the holidays, but at any other time as well. The recommended refrigerated storage time for different foods can vary by food type, but in general, the refrigerated storage time is quite short, said Sanja Ilic, Food Safety State Specialist, Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends storing cooked turkey no longer than three to four days. These short-but-safe limits will also keep refrigerated foods from spoiling.

Many consumers, however, do not practice safe leftover storage. In a recent study by the USDA, one-third of participants said they’d eat leftovers longer than four days after cooking.

This is a problem because after four days of refrigeration, the risk of foodborne illness causing bacteria growing on those leftovers increases, Ilic said.

“And because pathogen bacteria typically doesn’t change the taste, smell, or look of food, you can’t tell whether leftovers are safe to eat,” she said.

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 USDA.

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, the USDA says. Taking care to store leftovers correctly can help you avoid getting a bad case of foodborne illness.

“Remember that cooked foods have to be kept out of the temperature danger zone (40 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit)),” Ilic said. “Turkey, like other cooked foods, should be kept warm (135 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Turkey can only be at room temperature for two hours. After that, it should be refrigerated.”

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 that causes 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: C. perfringens outbreaks occur most often in November and December, with many of the outbreaks linked to turkey and roast beef, according to the CDC.

Here are some other tips from the USDA regarding leftovers:

  • 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.
  • Store stuffing separately from 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.

Lastly, while you think of clever ways to serve up those leftovers, (turkey pot pie, anyone?) remember to keep food safety in mind so that you, your family, and any guests who want to feast on Nanna’s special-recipe sweet potato 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.

How to handle diabetes during the holidays

I was recently diagnosed with diabetes and am not sure how to manage my disease as I go through the holiday season. Do you have any tips on what steps I can take to navigate through the holidays while keeping my diabetes in check?

Holidays can present special challenges for those who live with diabetes, particularly as people look for ways to either avoid temptation or make better choices while they navigate all the indulgences of the season, said Jenny Lobb, a family and consumer sciences educator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Whether it’s dealing with busy schedules, extra stress, family gatherings, or holiday eating, the holiday season brings many extra gatherings, social events, and shopping, which leave us with even less time for healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, she said.

“Towards the end of the year, many people really do celebrate a holiday ‘season,’ with multiple holidays occurring from October to January, many of which have a heavy focus on foods that are often high in sugar, sodium, fat, and calories,” Lobb said. “Since research shows that weight gained during the holidays doesn’t usually come off later in the year, it’s important to focus on ‘weight maintenance’ through quality diets and physical activity during the holidays.”

“This not only helps our waistlines, but also helps us manage other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.”

With that in mind, Lobb and other CFAES food and nutrition experts offer the following tips to help you enjoy the holidays while managing your diabetes:

  • Cut stress and stay active. Stress causes our bodies to stay in a constant state of “fight or flight.” In response, our bodies release hormones that affect the way our bodies release and use glucose. This can cause blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels to remain high and be more difficult to manage. One way to deal with that is through physical activity, which helps reduce stress and helps our bodies control blood glucose. Go for a walk after eating a holiday meal, or clear the table after the meal. This will get you active and prevent mindless munching.
  • Plan ahead. Stick to your healthy meal plan, plan menus in advance, and take diabetes-friendly foods to gatherings.
  • When eating a holiday meal, try to consume only the amount of carbohydrates that you’d normally consume, and don’t skip meals or snacks earlier in the day to “save” carbs for later. This will make your blood glucose more difficult to control.
  • Keep desserts in check. Share a dessert, make desserts that you’ve modified to be healthy, or politely decline dessert when you know you’ve reached your limit.
  • Watch your meal portion sizes.

Lastly, if you want even more information on how to manage diabetes during the holidays, OSU Extension offers a Take Charge of Your Diabetes During the Holidays class, where you’ll learn how to prepare holiday favorites that are both nutritious and delicious; participate in live cooking demonstrations; sample healthy versions of holiday favorites; and take home recipes to try at your holiday celebrations.

This free class is held at the Franklin County office of OSU Extension, at the Kunz-Brundige Franklin County Extension Building, 2548 Carmack Road, Columbus, Ohio, at CFAES’ Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory. Registration by Nov. 30 is required. Contact Lobb at 614-292-7775 or lobb.3@osu.edu to reserve your spot.

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 writer Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Jenny Lobb, educator, family and consumer sciences, OSU Extension.

$4.50 a day for healthy foods?

I want to get a head start on my New Year’s resolution to make healthier food choices, but I really don’t have a lot of money to spend on food besides what I already spend. How can I make better food choices without breaking my meager budget?

Photo: Getty Images.

It’s good that you want to make healthier food choices and aren’t waiting until a specific date on the calendar to make that change. And, contrary to popular belief, healthy food doesn’t have to be expensive.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, healthy foods are not necessarily more expensive than less healthy ones. In many cases, it depends on how you measure the costs of the foods that you are comparing. For example, the USDA said in a written statement, “fruits and vegetables appear more expensive than less healthy foods when the price is measured by calories rather than by weight or by amount in an average serving. The price measure has a large effect on which foods are determined more expensive.”

Furthermore, the USDA found that when you compare the costs of foods by weight or portion size, grains, veggies, fruits, and dairy foods are less costly than most meats or foods high in added sugar, salt, or artery-clogging saturated fat. Also according to the USDA, carrots, bananas, lettuce, and pinto beans were all cheaper per portion than soda, ice cream, ground beef, or French fries.

The USDA’s Food Plans: Cost of Food Report estimates the weekly costs of a nutritious diet at four different levels: thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost, and liberal. According to the February 2019 report, for a family of four (male and female ages 19–50 and two children ages 2–5), the cost of a nutritious diet on the thrifty level is $130.70 per week, averaging $1.55 per person per meal; the low-cost plan is $167.10 per week; the moderate-cost plan is $206.10 per week; and the liberal plan is $254.80 per week.

The foods chosen for each plan were based on the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, according to Carol Smathers, field specialist in youth nutrition and wellness for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“It is possible to eat a diet that meets the USDA dietary guidelines at an average cost of $1.50 per meal in central Ohio,” she said. “And there are cost savings and health benefits associated with consuming fewer unhealthy items and eating in smaller portions.”

Smathers offers these tips to track your lower food costs while increasing your healthy food choices:

  • Set a grocery shopping budget. Calculate the number of meals that will be eaten at home, then multiply that number by $1.50, for example, per person. The total is the amount that you would spend on your grocery purchase.
  • Create a grocery list including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to meet MyPlate recommendations. Remember, if you fill half your cart with fruits and vegetables, you are more likely to fill half your plate with produce.
  • Limit your purchases of processed foods.
  • Track your meals. Don’t shop again until the target number of meals that you’ve budgeted, is eaten.

While it might be a challenge to stick to your plan, research has shown that the average time it takes someone to stick to a new habit is 66 days, Smathers said.

“So, if you want to develop a new behavior, it will take at least two months, and for many people that’s simply not enough,” she said. “Stick with it for longer, and you’ll end up with a habit you can keep, without thinking.”

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University 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 Carol Smathers, field specialist in youth nutrition and wellness for Ohio State University Extension.