Holiday leftovers — making it last
The extended holiday weekend means family, friends and food. And possibly more food than can be consumed. This means leftovers need to be stored so they can be enjoyed for a couple of days.
To ensure that your holiday spread remains safe to eat, follow these guidelines:
- Two-Hour Rule: All perishable items should be refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. After two hours, perishable food enters the Danger Zone (between 40 degrees to 140 degrees F) where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause the food to become unsafe. If foods have been left out for more than two hours, discard items to prevent foodborne illness.
- Use Small and Shallow Containers: Store leftover food in small, shallow containers in the refrigerator or in the freezer for later use. Shallow containers help cool leftovers more quickly than storing them in large containers.
- Freeze or Consume Within Four Days: That means the Friday after Memorial Day is the last day you can safely eat the holiday leftovers. If you want to keep leftovers longer, freeze them within that four-day period to enjoy later. Food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer, so it is safe to eat for much longer. Foods that have been in the freezer for months (recommended freezer times chart) may be dry, or may not taste as good, but they will be safe to eat. If you store leftovers in the freezer, the quality with best within two to six months. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
- 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.
Curious about how long a specific food will last in the fridge or freezer? Check out this helpful chart from the FDA.
USDA Experts are Available
Need more information about leftovers? Call the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EDT, Monday through Friday.
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