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Handling Leftovers Safely

Handling Leftovers Safely

 

            With the multitude of spring and summer come multitudes of leftovers.  Enjoying a sandwich made from leftovers can be as satisfying as the original meal – especially if we know the leftovers have been handled safety. Safe handling of leftovers is very important to reducing foodborne illness.

            Cook Food Safely at Home -The first step in having safe leftovers is cooking the food safely. Use a food thermometer to make sure that the food is cooked to a safe, minimum internal temperature.

  • Red meats: Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145° F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
  • Ground meats: Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160° F as measured with a food thermometer.
  • Poultry: Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165° F as measured with a food thermometer.

            Keep Food out of the "Danger Zone" - Bacteria grow rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, leftovers must be refrigerated. Throw away all perishable foods that have been left in room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is over 90° F, such as at an outdoor picnic during summer).
            Cold perishable food, such as chicken salad or a platter of deli meats, should be kept at 40° F or below. When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot in chafing dishes, slow cookers, or warming trays. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice or use small serving trays and replace them often. Discard any cold leftovers that have been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).
            Cool Food Rapidly -To prevent bacterial growth, it's important to cool food rapidly so it reaches as fast as possible the safe refrigerator-storage temperature of 40° F or below. To do this, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. A big pot of soup, for example, will take a long time to cool, inviting bacteria to multiply and increasing the danger of foodborne illness. Instead, divide the pot of soup into smaller containers so it will cool quickly.
            Cut large items of food into smaller portions to cool. For whole roasts or hams, slice or cut them into smaller parts. Cut turkey into smaller pieces and refrigerate. Sliced breast meat; legs and wings may be left whole. Hot food can be placed directly in the refrigerator or be rapidly chilled in an ice or cold water bath before refrigerating.
            Store Leftovers Safely - Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months. Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer. Cover leftovers, wrap them in airtight packaging, or seal them in storage containers. These practices help keep bacteria out, retain moisture, and prevent leftovers from picking up odors from other food in the refrigerator. Immediately refrigerate or freeze the wrapped leftovers for rapid cooling.
            Reheat Leftovers Safely - When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165° F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil. Cover leftovers to reheat. This retains moisture and ensures that food will heat all the way through.
            An extra tip for this time of year, is storing left-over hard boiled eggs. Since hard-boiled eggs are cooked, you may believe they are safer than raw eggs. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, hard-boiled eggs are actually more susceptible to bacterial contamination because the cooking process damages a protective layer on the shell of the egg. Keep your hard-boiled eggs safe by refrigerating them immediately after cooking them, and eat them within one week.

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