Tips for keeping leftovers safe to eat

Published 5:41 am Friday, November 26, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

While the year’s biggest meal may be over, delicious Thanksgiving leftovers can sustain you to Cyber Monday. Keep your favorite leftovers safe by following these food safety steps from the USDA:

  • Remember the Two-Hour Rule: Refrigerate perishable items within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. After two hours, perishable food enters the “Danger Zone” (between 40 F and 140 F), where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause food to become unsafe. Perishable food should be discarded if left out for longer than two hours, so refrigerate or freeze items to prevent food waste.
  • Use Shallow Containers: After you breakdown your Thanksgiving meal into smaller portions, store leftover food in shallow containers in the refrigerator until the Monday after Thanksgiving, or in the freezer for later use.
  • Freeze or Consume Within Four Days: Use the Monday after Thanksgiving as a reminder that it is the last day you can safely eat leftovers. If you want to keep leftovers longer, freeze them within that four-day period. Frozen food stays safe indefinitely, though the quality may decrease over time (best quality if eaten within six months).
  • Reheat to 165 F: Make sure your reheated leftovers reach 165 F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies safely by bringing them to a rolling boil.
  • Microwave Food Safely: When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave safe glass or ceramic dish and add some liquid, if needed. Because microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer after allowing a resting time.

For more questions about food safety, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email to reach a food safety expert or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.


Get the latest headlines sent to you