Store holiday leftovers properly to avoid food-borne illness

Holiday meal leftovers have almost as many traditions as the meals themselves. From turkey salad sandwiches to turkey tetrazzini, cooks want the leftovers for their traditional holiday meals to be as good, and as safe, as the feast itself.

Renee Boyer, consumer food-safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension, recommends putting leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer soon after a holiday meal to avoid temperatures that promote bacteria growth and turn food stale. As a general rule, plan to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of when the food is put on the table.

“The sooner you store leftovers, the better,” Boyer said. While the turkey is at room temperature, approximately 72 degrees F, it is in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees F. This is the temperature range in which bacteria can grow. The cooler temperature of the refrigerator, 35 to 40 degrees F, slows down metabolic processes and therefore slows the growth of harmful bacteria.

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