Food storage 101
At the end of a holiday meal not only are we left with full bellies and happy memories, we’re also usually left with lots of uneaten food that needs to be safely stored so it can be reheated or made into new meals in the days ahead. Leftovers are one of the joys of a big holiday meal, but you need to make sure you’re storing everything correctly and safely in order to protect your family from food borne illness, which is most commonly known as food poisoning.
According to the Government of Canada safe food storage web page1, symptoms of food poisoning can include:
- stomach cramps
- persistent fever
These symptoms can start suddenly, several hours or even days after you eat contaminated food. Luckily most people completely recover from a bout of food poisoning, but there are groups who are at higher risk for serious health effects. That group includes pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 60, and people with weakened immune systems. If you suspect you have food poisoning you should contact your doctor, especially if you fall into the high-risk group.
Safe food storage tips
- Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower and your freezer at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower. This will keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly.2
- After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, leftovers must be refrigerated.3
- Throw away all perishable foods that have been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is over 90° F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer).4
- Cool food quickly so it reaches the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40° F or below as soon as possible. To do this, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. For example, divide a large pot of soup into smaller containers, and cut large pieces of meat into smaller pieces. Turkey legs and wings can remain whole.5
- Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers to help keep bacteria out and flavor and moisture in.
- If you’ve followed the guidelines above, you can keep your well-chilled and packaged leftovers in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days or in the freezer for 3 – 4 months.
- Thaw your leftovers in the refrigerator where they can stay at a safe temperature the entire time they are thawing.
- You can cook leftovers from frozen or thaw them first, but in either case make sure they are reheated to at least 165°F.6
Some people purposely cook extra portions of holiday favorites just so they have lots of leftovers to enjoy in the days after the big family dinner. It makes for easy, tasty meals when you’re probably a little worn out from all the festivities. Making sure those leftovers are stored and reheated safely will ensure that your post-holiday downtime is indeed as relaxing and as healthy as possible.
414261H CAN/US (12/16)