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Injury Prevention and Safety

Making Thanksgiving Leftovers Last

Are you looking forward to those yummy leftovers from your Thanksgiving celebration?  It might surprise you that leftovers stored in the refrigerator generally last only 3 or 4 days.   If you think they might be good for a week or longer, you could be in for a disappointment!

To make sure this does not happen, refrigerate only the amount of turkey you think you will use in the next few days.  Store the rest in the freezer, where it should be fine for 2 to 6 months.

Here are some detailed leftover and storage tips for holiday foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service:

Make sure perishable foods are left at room temperature for no longer than 2 hours before you refrigerate or freeze them. Bacteria can multiply quickly between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, so limit the amount of time food is in that “danger zone.”


If the leftovers you are storing are very hot, take steps so they will cool rapidly. The food should reach the safe temperature of 40 degrees or below as quickly as possible. For example:


After cooling, wrap leftovers well in airtight packaging or in sealed storage containers. Whether the leftovers are stored in the refrigerator or the freezer, this will help keep them fresh by:


When freezing leftovers, mark the package with a date. Although freezing temperatures of 0 degrees F or below does prevent the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness, keeping foods frozen for too long can affect their quality.


If your home freezer has a “quick freeze” option, use it. Rapidly freezing foods prevents undesirable large ice crystals from forming. If you have a freestanding freezer in addition to your refrigerator-freezer, use it.  It likely stays colder because it is not opened as often.


When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a food thermometer.


For more suggestions, visit the USDA’s Leftovers and Food Safety fact sheets.


More Resources from the USDA:

Ask Karen, Food Safety on Your PC or Smartphone

Safe Food Handling Fact Sheets


This article originally appeared in Chow Line, a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

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Last Reviewed: Nov 22, 2013

Linnette  Goard, MS Linnette Goard, MS
Assistant Professor and Field Specialist
Food Safety, Selection, and Management
OSU Extension
The Ohio State University