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Foodstuffs and How To Serve Up Your Leftovers Safely

Learn how to serve up leftovers safely. NSF experts offer these food storage and reheating tips to help you avoid food poisoning.

Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving turkey leftovers or making an easy dinner the next night with mashed potatoes, stuffing and all the holiday meal fixings? It’s less work, helps cut down on food waste and can save you money.

But beware — it’s essential not to let the holiday spread linger on the buffet because nasty bacteria can contaminate your food.

NSF Experts Offer These Tips for Food Storage and Reheating To Avoid Food Poisoning

  • Scrub Up

    First, wash your hands with warm water and soap, scrub for 20 seconds, and rinse and dry thoroughly. Do this before and after handling leftovers.
  • Safe Storage Tips

    Sure, it’s easy to leave leftovers on the buffet so guests can go back for seconds (and thirds), but you can keep your food safer by storing it quickly:
    • Leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded within three to four days.
    • Move food to the refrigerator fast — within two hours. Transfer the food from the hot casserole dish to a shallow one to help it cool quickly.
    • Use an appliance thermometer in your refrigerator to verify that the temperature is at 40° F (4° C) or below.
    • Create individual portions of the meal if you are freezing it, so they are ready to heat up, and avoid reheating, which can lead to bacteria growth.
  • Reheating Tips

    • Reheat cooked leftovers to 165° F (74° C), as measured with an NSF-certified food thermometer.
    • Sauces, soups and gravies should be reheated by bringing them to a boil.
    • When microwaving leftovers, stir the food partway through the heating time so there are no cold spots where bacteria can survive. Cover food and rotate it for even cooking.
  • One and Done

    It’s easy and tempting, but don’t reuse the food’s original container for multiple leftover uses. Throw it out or recycle it and put leftovers in proper storage containers. The best way to preserve the foods you love is to use NSF-certified food storage containers. NSF experts test these containers to be easily cleanable. The lids are tight enough to keep air (and bacteria growth) out or to let steam vent when the food is hot. They are also made from food-safe materials. Look for the NSF mark on product packaging when you’re shopping.
  • Keep It Clean

    A 2013 germ study by NSF found that many kitchen items harbor germs if not cleaned properly, including food storage containers with rubber seals. These seals were the eighth-germiest place in the kitchen and ripe for bacteria like Salmonella, yeast and mold. When you’re cleaning your containers, make sure to remove the rubber seals.

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