In the days following Thanksgiving, for many people, eating leftovers is as central to the cherished holiday as football and family stress. Some may warm the leftovers on a plate, while others may simply pile turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole on a Hawaiian roll for the most imaginable Thanksgiving sandwich.
Either way, the leftovers are consumed.
Unfortunately, as good as the taste of those leftovers going down, if they end up coming right back up, the memories of them will not be quite so grand. If one gets bacterial food poisoning from food that has been poorly treated or processed, symptoms may be felt as soon as a few hours after consumption.
What foods you save, how you store them, and how long you can make a major difference about whether the things you expect to consume after Thanksgiving can pose a possible health risk or not.
Before loading your plate with all that extra Thanksgiving goodness, here's what to bear in mind.
Some of the main culprits on your holiday table for foodborne illness include:
Potatoes mashed. Because of the bacteria present, mashed potatoes or any cooked potatoes can develop botulism if left at room temperature for too long. This becomes even more probable when baked in foil. The bacteria can be so overwhelming that it won't be enough to destroy even reheating potatoes at a high temperature.
Stuffing. Stuffing can prove dangerous to enjoy as a leftover because it is vulnerable to the production of pathogenic bacteria. Stuffing does not always give off a visual indication of decay or smell, but it can also make its customers sick.
Turkey. Raw poultry is a bacterial hotbed that can itself prove harmful as well as contaminate other foods with which it comes into contact. Poultry poses some dangers even when adequately cooked, particularly when dealing with a turkey that has been left out for hours on Thanksgiving Day to grow bacteria.
Mistake Most People Make
People have a habit of leaving food on the buffet table for far too long before storing it away when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers. This is because everybody, even long after the meal has finished, likes to continue grazing.
This is one mistake, though, which could lead to a lot of pain.
Bacteria grow at this temperature if any turkey, stuffing, or gravy is left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (40 to 140 °F), raising the risk of foodborne illness. In order to avoid food poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises customers to refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within 2 hours after preparation.
If you want some leftovers for later enjoyment, as soon as you finish your first round, begin putting your food products away. When you pack those leftovers, split them into smaller serving sizes for storage to prevent the growth of bacteria from accumulating.
And because you want to ensure that all food products are cooled before they are placed in the refrigerator, because sealing hot food and placing it in a cool atmosphere will encourage moisture and bacterial growth, she recommends putting turkey in shallow containers for faster cooling with a tight cover.
Another big mistake people make when they store their leftovers is overloading their fridge.
A family fridge can never be as full as after a Thanksgiving meal, but what people don't know is that the fridge temperature drops when a fridge is too overloaded. That means that within the confines of your refrigerator, the food you thought you stored correctly might be spoiled, with bacteria reproducing and waiting for a chance to make you sick.
Learn to understand when your refrigerator is not running at its maximum capacity and change the handling of food accordingly.
How Long Is Too Long
So, let's presume you were smart and had all your leftovers well tucked away, with plenty of room to spare for the fridge. That doesn't mean that you can indefinitely enjoy those leftovers.
Eventually, food is always rotten, even when properly preserved. Keep in mind that in the refrigerator, turkey leftovers remain healthy for 3 to 4 days.
It's a timeline that is normally a good bet for all your other favorites from Thanksgiving as well. If you intend on eating them for longer, consider freezing them, as they will last 2 to 6 months safely in the freezer.
To Limit Risk, Recook
Although we know the sandwich, we described earlier sounds delicious, bear in mind that eating leftovers straight from the fridge increases the risk of catching a foodborne disease, a bit of Thanksgiving in every bite.
A sufficient amount of heat has not been hit by undercooked food or under heated leftovers to kill threatening bacteria that grow and persist. Eating cold leftovers, or eating your food raw or undercooked the first time around are sure ways to raise the likelihood of problems caused by leftover food when consumed.
Cook all foods to at least 150 ° F in order to minimize these risks. This will avoid the 40 to 140-degree danger zone for cooking.
In Case You Get Sick
You can do everything right sometimes, or at least assume that you're doing everything right, and foodborne bacteria are always going to become a problem. You should throw out the foods you think might have made you sick immediately if you start having any symptoms of stomach upset.
Starting to eat food that can naturally mitigate the symptoms of the disease is advisable. This includes ginger, which is high in antibacterial and antimicrobial content due to its anti-inflammatory and warming effects, and green onions. It is possible to brew these into a tea and drink them when symptoms continue.
In order to replenish your fluids and keep you well hydrated as you suffer from your disease, drink plenty of water, as dehydration is a danger. And if you have the ability to feed, keep your meals light.
Don't hesitate to seek medical advice when in doubt and throw any remaining leftovers away.