How to Safely Store Thanksgiving Leftovers

Learn how to freeze and refrigerate that remaining mountain of turkey and veggies the right way

By following these basic food safety guidelines you and your family can be feasting on Thanksgiving leftovers for days and weeks to come:

Wash your hands
Before handling leftovers, wash your hands in warm, soapy water to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Label and date
Avoid playing leftover roulette: Label and date everything with permanent marker and masking tape or adhesive labels.

Chill out
Bacteria can increase at room temperature, so it’s important to quickly cool your food. Be sure to refrigerate or freeze foods within 2 hours of cooking, and toss anything that has been sitting out longer than that.

Store leftovers in 2-inch shallow layers in containers (don’t pile too high to avoid trapping heat) and use an ice bath to rapidly cool hot liquids, like soup, before refrigerating or freezing.

Follow our guide for properly storing these common Thanksgiving leftovers:

  • Turkey: Carve all the meat off the bone and cut into smaller pieces. Divide the turkey into small portions and store in shallow storage containers or freezer bags in the refrigerator or freezer. If the turkey has stuffing in its cavity, remove it and store separately.
  • Green beans: Place the remaining beans in an airtight storage container or freezer bag, cover, and refrigerate. Freezing may affect the texture so it’s not recommended.
  • Mashed potatoes and stuffing: Before refrigerating, place the leftovers in a shallow layer in an airtight storage container and cover. Or store leftovers in freezer bags in the freezer.
  • Cranberry sauce: Remove the remaining sauce from the can and store in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Pumpkin pie: Wrap the pie tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.

Note: Cooked egg whites, cabbage, lettuces, custards and puddings do not freeze well.

Reheat the right way
Solid leftovers should be heated to 165°F. Soups and other liquids should be brought to a rolling boil.

 

Use the 4-day rule
As a general rule, keep leftovers in the fridge for 4 days -- max. (The exception is stuffing and gravy, which only keep for 2 days.) Freeze anything you don’t think will be eaten within that time. And if you have no idea how long something has been in the fridge, throw it out!

 


Leftover storage time limits:
Food Refrigerator Freezer
Cooked meat and poultry 3 to 4 days 2 to 6 months
Soups, stews 3 to 4 days 2 to 3 months
Salads (potato, pasta) 3 to 4 days Not recommended
Gravy, meat broth 1 to 2 days 2 to 3 months

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