Pop quiz! It’s Thanksgiving afternoon, the big meal is done and you’re zonked out on the couch watching football with the family. After the game, three hours later, you shuffle into the kitchen to put away the leftovers. True or false: This is absolutely fine.
You did answer “false,” right? According to WebMD, Thanksgiving food left out of the fridge or freezer for more than two hours must be tossed, period. And that turkey and green bean casserole that always seem to take up residence in the fridge for weeks? Toss them after four days max.
Food safety is an issue year-round, of course, but it should be top of mind over the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you cook and eat your meal at home or dine out at a Thanksgiving buffet, here are some tips to keep you and your family healthy.
Home Sweet Home
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests these time windows for safely eating Thanksgiving foods prepared at home:
- Gravy and stuffing: one to two days.
- Turkey: three to four days.
- Pies: two to three days.
- Cheesecake: within a week.
The academy notes that leftovers should be reheated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Leftovers should be stored in shallow containers, about 2 inches deep, so the food cools evenly and quickly in the fridge.
When preparing the big meal, you may need to lower the temperature of your refrigerator temporarily., It should be at a constant 34 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit since you’ll be opening the door frequently during food prep, WebMD notes. Anyone preparing food should wash hands often in hot, soapy water and should not place raw meats on wood cutting boards, which can soak up bacteria and contaminate other foods.
Food safety experts offer an easily remembered guideline for food made at home: the “2x2x4 rule.” Leftovers should go into the fridge within two hours, in containers 2 inches deep, and they should be eaten within four days.
Safely cooking a turkey is another topic altogether. If you’re a first-timer, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854. Food-safety specialists answer panicked calls from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. You can also email [email protected] or visit the website.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offers tips for holiday food safety.
Dash and dine
If you prefer your giblets and gravy served in a restaurant, pay attention to food safety there, as well. Buffets, in particular, can breed bacteria that can have you spending your afternoon at the ER rather than curled up with a good book. A few tips:
- Make sure cold foods are cold and hot foods are hot. According to the S. Food and Drug Administration, hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer and cold foods at 40 degrees or colder.
- Get a new plate for each trip to the buffet, and make sure other diners do the same.
- Teach children not to put their heads or hands under the sneeze guard.
Whether you’re enjoying your Thanksgiving feast at home or in a restaurant, following a few simple safety tips can keep you and your family happy and healthy on the big day.