Cathy Agan | 12/10/2013 1:25:03 AM
The holiday season is upon us with parties and family gatherings. What happens once the holiday meals are over and you have loads of leftovers? If they are handled properly, those leftovers can be the basis of a few more meals. However, any perishable foods such as turkey, stuffing, and gravy that have been left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours should be discarded. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in foods left at room temperature, which falls within the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (F). It is not worth taking a chance eating these foods and running the risk of a foodborne illness. Following are some tips to help manage any leftovers you may have.
Divide leftovers into smaller portions in shallow containers so they will cool quickly in the refrigerator or freezer. Use refrigerated turkey, ham, dressing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days. If you are freezing leftovers, use them within 2 to 6 months for best quality. Leftover cooked turkey can be stored in the freezer for about 4 months for best quality. If the turkey is covered with broth or gravy and then frozen, it will maintain quality for about 6 months.
You can eat leftover cooked turkey cold or reheated, but it is not recommended to reheat a whole turkey. Cut the meat into smaller pieces before storing in the refrigerator and reheating. Reheat turkey in a 325 degree F oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F on a food thermometer. To keep the turkey moist while reheating, add a little broth or water and cover it during reheating. You can also use a microwave oven to reheat turkey. Just be sure to cover the food and rotate it for even heating.
Use leftover turkey for “planned over” meals. Rather than just reheating the turkey, use it in a new recipe. This will keep it from seeming like leftovers as usual. The turkey carcass can be boiled to make a tasty stock for use in gumbo or soups. Try using leftover turkey in place of cooked chicken in some of your favorite recipes such as turkey tetrazzini, turkey salad, turkey enchiladas, or turkey pot pie.
For more information about food safety and preparing your holiday meal, you can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). The hotline is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Eastern time, Monday through Friday. You can also access a web-based automatic response system which is available 24/7 at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/informational/askkaren.