food safety

How Long Do Thanksgiving Leftovers Last?

They're good for a few days if they're stored safely

Thanksgiving Meal
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One of the best parts of Thanksgiving is having leftovers from the big feast.

Whether it's turkey sandwiches, reheated green bean casserole or another favorite side, Thanksgiving leftovers are perfect for grazing over the long holiday weekend, if the items are stored safely.

Here's how to get the most out of that delicious meal in the days after Thanksgiving, while avoiding the risk of food poisoning.

What is the right temperature to cook a turkey?

Let's get down to business. The star of Thanksgiving is the turkey, but like any type of meat, it's important to prepare it safely.

Uncooked turkey contains salmonella and other germs that grow quickly between 40 and 140 degrees, according to the CDC. While it can be tempting to thaw the turkey on the kitchen counter, uncooked turkey shouldn't stay on the counter for more than two hours.

The better bet is to thaw the turkey in the microwave or in cold water. The CDC recommends placing the turkey in a bag before putting it in the sink. This will help keep juices from leaking and potentially contaminating surfaces where other foods might be prepared.

The general rule for thawing a turkey in water is 30 minutes for every pound. The CDC also advises people to change the water every 30 minutes until the bird is thawed and ready to put in the oven or deep fryer.

Be sure to wash your hands after touching raw meat. Set the oven to at least 325 degrees and use a food thermometer to make sure the turkey reaches a safe minimum temperature of 165 degrees.

How long can leftovers stay out before putting them in the refrigerator?

Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses. If the feast is being enjoyed outdoors and exposed to temperatures over 90 degrees, the dishes should be stored within one hour, according to FoodSafety.gov.

Everything should be stored at 40 degrees or cooler to keep it fresh and out of the danger zone where bacteria can thrive.

Big cuts of meat should also be cut into smaller pieces so they can cool quickly.

What temperature should I reheat my leftovers at?

The official Food Safety website for the U.S. recommends heating all leftovers to at least 165 degrees before serving.

How long do leftovers last before you need to throw them away?

The hard work of cooking the turkey, peeling the potatoes and preparing the rest of the sides is over, so it's time to enjoy what's left of Thanksgiving for the next few days. Items can be safely stored in the refrigerator for three to four days before they should be thrown away. If you've had more than enough turkey and stuffing for a while, Thanksgiving dishes can also be frozen and reheated at a later date to enjoy long after the holiday season is over.

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This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY:

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