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Tips for Taking Home Holiday Leftovers

How Safe is Your Stuffing?

One of the best perks of the holiday season is undoubtedly the leftovers that come with the time of year. They come with the territory of cooking large meals for family and friends, and who doesn’t love to send guests home with treats? It is easy to accidentally let the fruits of your labor spoil, but if you follow these tips, your holiday dinner can safely be lunch for the rest of the week!

First, Make sure food is cooked to a safe temperature the first time around. Under cooked food is the number one cause of food borne illness. When cooking raw meat, use a food thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is high enough to kill any harmful bacteria. According to the USDA, meat should be cooked at its thickest to the following temperatures:

  • Red Meats: minimum internal temperature of 145° degrees Fahrenheit

  • Ground Meats: minimum internal temperature of 160° degrees Fahrenheit

  • Poultry: minimum internal temperature of 165° degrees Fahrenheit

Second, follow safe handling practices when serving prepared food. Keep food from reaching the temperature “Danger Zone.” Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 F and 140 F - it is best to keep prepared food out of this temperature range to prevent bacteria from growing.

Prepared cold foods should be kept at or below 40° F when serving. Put leftovers in the fridge within two hours of preparation, discard food that has been left out for over two hours (one hour for hotter environments like picnics) and keep food cold by serving in containers over beds of ice.

Finally, store and reheat leftovers safely. Wrap or cover leftovers in airtight containers - this will help keep bacteria out. You can store these leftovers in the fridge for three to four days. If you don’t anticipate eating the leftovers right away, stick them in the freezer and keep them as long as you’d like. When reheating leftovers, use a food thermometer to ensure that your food reaches 165° F.

Turkey Tips!

(According to CDC)

  1. Thaw - Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, breast side up. Allow one day of thawing for every 5 lbs. of frozen meat.

  2. Brine - Using a meat thermometer, soak your turkey in brine and ensure that the temperature of the brine does not rise past 40° F.

  3. Prep - Dry the skin of the bird to ensure even cooking. Rub butter all over the skin and season using your chosen herbs and spices.

  4. Stuff - If you are cooking stuffing, prepare it separately in a casserole dish to ensure that it is fully cooked.

    • If you decide to prepare stuffing inside the turkey, stuff it just before cooking and use a thermometer to make sure the stuffing reaches at least 165° F.

  5. Cook - Set the oven temperature to a minimum of 325° F, use an internal thermometer to ensure the temperature reaches at least 165° F at the thickest portions. Insert the thermometer into the breast, thigh and wing joint.

    • Let the turkey sit for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the bird. This will allow the meat to rest and will also allow the stuffing to continue to cook inside the turkey.


For more tips on safe food handling, visit the USDA’s food safety page or the gateway to Federal Food Safety Information.