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Enjoy those Thanksgiving leftovers, but don't let them linger

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

November 25, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Thanksgiving leftovers are tempting, but don't leave them in the refrigerator for more than a few days.
Thanksgiving leftovers are tempting, but don't leave them in the… (Stephen Osman / Los Angeles…)

Leftovers are one of the best things about Thanksgiving, and no doubt you've already had your turkey-stuffing-potatoes-cranberry-sauce sandwich, the official meal of post-Thanksgiving Friday. But even though the perishables may be in the refrigerator they're still vulnerable to bacteria, so let's have a little primer on food safety.

First, it's a good idea to make sure your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer is 0 degrees or colder, said Ruth Frechman, a Burbank-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Assn. Those can be checked with an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer. A warmer environment gives bacteria a more hospitable environment to grow.

Cooked poultry can stay refrigerated for three to four days and frozen for four months, according to the Home Food Safety website (a collaboration between the ADA and ConAgra Foods). After that, give it the heave-ho.

Did you opt for ham instead of turkey? Cooked, sliced leftovers can stay in the fridge for three to four days, and in the freezer for one to two months. Soft cheeses are OK in the fridge for a week, hard cheeses for three to four weeks if they're open.

Many of us eat leftovers cold, but standing in front of the refrigerator in pajamas scarfing down yams loses its appeal after a while. When reheating leftovers, the food safety site recommends using a meat thermometer to make sure foods are reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

That goes for reheating food in the microwave. And if yours doesn't have a turntable that helps ensure even heating, the site recommends giving the food a 180-degree turn halfway through the heating time, stirring if necessary to make sure everything gets hot. Wait one minute before testing it with the thermometer. Frechman has a video on reheating leftovers that goes over the basics.

Did you eat out and take leftovers home? Make sure that gets sent to the refrigerator tout de suite, and the site suggests you write the purchase date on the container.

The most commonly identified food-borne illnesses, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are caused by the bacteria trifecta of Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli, and by a group of viruses best known as Norwalk-like viruses. Symptoms of eating foods with these organisms are pretty much the same: diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and sometimes fever and vomiting. Good times. More information on food safety and food poisoning can be found at FoodSafety.gov.

So be prudent about your leftovers and don't let things linger too long, no matter how tempting they may be.

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