When it comes to holiday leftovers, many of us secretly relish that slice of cold turkey or ham the next morning, and how reheating those candied yams just enriches their flavor. Before you take that first bite, it’s important to ensure the leftovers you love stay safe, edible and bacteria-free.
“They’re a great way to stretch your food budget,” says food scientist Kantha Shelke, Ph.D, a representative for the Institute of Food Technologists. “Properly handling and storing leftovers can help ensure your family gets the most value and enjoyment out of the food you’ve prepared.”
Shelke offers these tips for managing leftovers:
Of course you know food needs to be preserved in a refrigerator, but does it need to be cooled off first? Your grandmother probably cooled or chilled cooked foods before refrigerating them for a couple of reasons. First, to save energy; hot food would make the fridge work harder. Also, there was a risk of a hot dish breaking when coming in contact with a cold shelf.
Modern refrigerators, however, are built to cool hot dishes. Still, chilling food promptly after cooking and then placing in the refrigerator is both safe and energy conscious. The temperature in your refrigerator should be at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. It’s best to use an appliance thermometer to make sure you have the correct temperature rather than relying on refrigerator controls and displays.
Generally, food can go in the refrigerator when it’s reached a temperature of 90-100 degrees F – the dish should be just warm to the touch. You can chill food in an ice bath or cold water, sit it in front of a fan or divide it into smaller portions that can be placed into shallow containers. The key is to store leftovers quickly, within two hours of cooking (one hour on hot summer days or in warm climates).
Dish or disposable wrap? It’s up to you. Thin-walled metal, glass or plastic containers that are shallow (no more than 2 inches deep) are ideal for storage. Bags, foil and plastic wrap also work well, especially if you have a piece of food that is large or oddly shaped.
Cooked meat can be stored three to four days in the fridge, while uncooked ground meats, poultry and seafood will last only a day or two. Raw roasts, steaks and chops (beef, veal, lamb or pork) can be refrigerated for three to five days. Casseroles, veggies and similar side dishes, as well as pie, usually will last three to five days.
If you have a lot of leftovers, you may want to freeze them. Freezing completely halts bacterial activity, so food can stay safe and usable for several months. Uncooked meats can last eight to 12 months in the freezer, while frozen cooked meats will begin to lose their flavor after three months. Freezer temperature should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
When it’s time to serve those leftovers again, a thermometer is the best way to ensure food has been heated to a safe temperature. Most foods, especially meats, should be heated to 165 degrees F in the center. Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a boil. Never reheat leftovers in crockpots, slow cookers or chafing dishes. More at www.
© 2013, King Features Synd., Inc.
It’s safe to leave steak or other whole cuts of beef or lamb a little bit rare when you reheat them, as long as they were initially cooked at a high temperature to sear the outside only and kill bacteria on the surface of the meat. Whether you use the stovetop or microwave to reheat will depend on the type of food. When reheating in a microwave, use a lower power setting to reheat without overcooking.
To learn more about food safety, visit www.IFT.org.
(c) 2013 King Features Synd., Inc.