food safety

Here's How Long You Have to Eat All Your Leftovers, According to Food Safety Experts

Respect the "two hour rule," or face the potential consequences.

by Wyatt Marshall
08 December 2018, 6:43pm

Photo via Flickr user Cat Craig

If you're reading this, you made it through Thanksgiving, meaning you have survived whatever post-election political showdown took place at the dinner table and have awoken from your annual self-induced turkey coma. Now that that's over, you can get down mano a mano with what's probably the best part of Thanksgiving: leftovers.

But before you start making some unholy turkey-cranberry-stuffing-green bean casserole-gravy-mashed-potato sandwich or a Thanksgiving burrito, know that if you want to make the most out of your leftovers experience, you've got your work cut out for you.

The clock is ticking. And if you want to play it safe, you've got just three to four days to eat the remnants from last night's feast, according to Mindy Costello, a consumer information specialist with the independent public health and safety group NSF.

Whether we're talking turkey or mashed potatoes, NSF guidelines say Thanksgiving leftovers have a mere 72 to 96 hours before they need to be consumed or put in the freezer. Beyond that three-to-four-day time frame, bacteria can take hold and put you in a world of gastrointestinal hurt. But what's just as important as respecting the fridge and freezer lives of your bird and sides are how quickly you got them off the table and into the fridge.

"It's really important to remember what we call the "two hour rule" for storage of leftovers," Costello told MUNCHIES, saying that once food is served it should return to the fridge within two hours for storage. "If it's a really hot day, you need to get them in the fridge within an hour. That reduces the chance of bacteria growing."

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If you've cooked everything and set the table only to find your guests are late, though, it is possible to freeze time and put your turkey in a holding pattern. You can extend that two hour rule by keeping cold foods on ice (below 40 degrees) or hot foods in the oven above 140 degrees. But once dinner's over, get 'em in the fridge.

The best way of storing your leftovers might not be intuitive, either. Instead of cramming everything into the refrigerator on the platters on which they were served, Costello says divvying up leftovers into small shallow containers will help them cool more evenly and make sure they last longer in the fridge.

"A lot of people don't necessarily think about that. When they're putting all their food away after Thanksgiving, they just take the container it was cooked in and shove it in the fridge," Costello told MUNCHIES. "If you have a lot of sweet potato leftovers because nobody liked them at the table, you need to separate them into smaller containers so that they will cool properly, and then you can leave it in the refrigerator for that three to four days, or you can put it in the freezer at that point after its cooled to 40 degrees."

If you can't knock out the rest of your leftovers in four days, just put them in the freezer, where they'll last for up to two or three months, Costello says. Stuffing in February—why not?

READ MORE: Here's the Best Way to Upgrade Leftover Rice

But if you think like a chef—or at least peruse the MUNCHIES recipe section—we think you'll probably just want to make that leftovers burrito, or something like Danny Bowien's shredded turkey in blackened mole sauce, before the snowy season settles in.

Time is of the essence. Toss the casserole you accidentally left on the counter all night, and get to work on the rest.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.