Love For Leftovers

As many of us plan on what to eat this holiday season, it can be good to have the end in mind — leftovers!

Eating leftovers is an economical choice that reduces food waste and keeps the holiday memory alive for a few more days. However, there are a few tips to share to make sure your leftovers are safe for all to enjoy.

How long can I keep leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer?

You have the option to refrigerate leftovers or freeze them. If you keep your leftovers in the refrigerator, you want to consume them within 3 to 4 days. If you choose to freeze your leftovers, for quality we recommend keeping them in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Again, you can keep leftovers in the freezer longer, but the quality may decrease — think freezer burn.

Temperatures to remember:

  • Refrigerator: Keep at 32°F to 40°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at this range will prevent the growth of most foodborne pathogens.
  • Freezer: Keep at -20°F to 0°F, buy an appliance thermometer.
    • Why: Temperatures at 0°F will prevent bacteria growth. However, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria. 
  • Reheating leftovers: Reheat leftovers to 165°F, buy an appliance thermometer
    • Why: This temperature will prevent growth of most foodborne pathogens

How do I store leftovers? Cool the foods quickly!

Have food storage containers in mind. Use shallow containers that are 4” or less in height to store leftovers. Shallow containers will help cool foods to 40°F and below faster.

Why: Temperatures at 40°F and below will reduce the risk of bacteria growing quickly (one bacteria can grow to over 16 million bacteria in 8 hours under the right conditions).

How: Slice large cuts into smaller portions to be refrigerated or frozen. Hot foods can be placed directly into the refrigerator or placed in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.

Gifts are not the only thing that should be wrapped well!

Wrapping leftovers so they are airtight will help keep moisture, absorbing funky odors and help keep bacteria out.

Though this infographic shows how to thaw a frozen turkey, the same methods can be used for other frozen foods.

Thawing: Thaw frozen leftovers in the microwave, refrigerator, cold water method or cook frozen. The best method is thawing in the refrigerator because the food can always be refrozen if using a refrigerator thaw.

Why: These methods do not encourage bacteria growth.

Reheating leftovers: Whether you use the oven, stovetop or microwave, you will want to reheat leftovers until they reach a safe internal temperature of 165°F. If you use the microwave, cover the bowl or plate, and make sure you stir the food to prevent cold spots, where food many not heat up.

Helpful resources:

  1. Your local Extension office: Find here
  2. Free FoodKeeper App: Here
  3. USDA: Leftovers and food safety

This post written by Extension food safety specialist Shauna Henley, PhD.

Giving Gifts with Health in Mind

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year! We get to see family and friends, celebrate traditions, and for many, give gifts. If you are someone who gives gifts during the holiday season, there can be pressure around finding that special something. If you need some creative ideas, consider finding gifts to support the health of friends and family this holiday season! 

Before I lose you right off the bat, I don’t necessarily mean giving people a basket of vegetables, a set of free weights, or a gym membership (unless they really want those things). Instead, I mean thinking about their interests. Then, asking yourself if there are any gifts you could give to help them have fun engaging in those interests in a way that supports their overall health and wellbeing. 

So what does that look like in practice? It could involve thinking outside the box and giving someone an experience. There are so many creative experiences out there to give as gifts like a walking tour of a museum, a tour of a local winery or distillery, or a creative experience like painting or making pottery. A few years ago, my Christmas gift from my sister was a day in Washington DC that included a walking tour of the National Portrait Gallery. It was a great way to experience the museum as an art novice who wouldn’t have known what I was looking at if the guide hadn’t been there! 

Another option is to consider gifts that help someone build a skill they have or would like to develop. Learning a new skill can be a wonderful experience that helps someone expand their horizons and build their confidence. But, the equipment needed, classes, or other resources can be things that people aren’t willing to buy for themselves. These could be things like subscriptions to apps or services that help people learn a language or online classes that teach people skills for photography, art, or even creative engineering. For my birthday, my mom once got me a cooking class. I was able to go to a commercial kitchen and learn how to bake bread from a trained chef. The class was wonderful and I have continued to build on those skills and bake different types of new breads whenever I get the chance. 

There are definitely other things that people might want or need this holiday season. So, this might not be an option for every person and that is ok! What I really want to do is to encourage people to think differently about the holiday season.  If you know that your friends or family members are attempting a health behavior change, get creative and see if you can find a gift that supports them in that journey! 

Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday season from all of us here at Breathing Room!