There is nothing like a big turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, topped with some leftover stuffing and gravy. But beware. Experts warn that Thanksgiving leftovers can pose the risk of foodborne illnesses if they aren’t prepared or stored properly.
According to experts, if turkey stuffing or gravy is left at room temperature for over two hours, it may no longer be safe to eat. This is the biggest mistake people make at holiday gatherings ─ leaving food on the buffet table far too long before storing it away, so that bacteria prosper.
But when stored safely in the refrigerator, turkey leftovers generally are good to eat for two to three days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one should “refrigerate leftovers at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.” Package the leftovers in smaller serving sizes before storing to discourage bacteria from growing.
Experts say that if you are planning to eat the leftovers after the recommended two-to-three-day period consider freezing them. This can be done for two to six months.
Jamie Bacharach, a nutritional consultant for Acupuncture Jerusalem, who has experience is treating patients with foodborne illness, and other experts say that the biggest culprits on the holiday table include:
• Mashed potatoes. When left at room temperature for too long, mashed potatoes or any cooked potatoes can develop botulism due to the bacteria present. When baked in foil, this is even more prevalent. According to Insider, reheating doesn’t always get the potato hot enough to kill the bacteria, even if the dish is piping hot. If you didn’t store your spuds in the refrigerator right after eating, don’t risk food poisoning by eating them the next day.
• Mushrooms. If you served sauteed mushrooms as part of your holiday dinner, reheating and consuming mushrooms that have been left too long at the table can cause stomach distress. If you really must reheat mushrooms, the European Food Information Council recommends warming them to at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Stuffing. As with other foods, make sure stuffing was refrigerated within two hours. Because it’s prone to developing pathogenic bacteria, eating leftover stuffing can be dangerous. It may not smell or look different, but it still can make you sick.
• Turkey. Raw turkey is a hotbed of bacteria that can also contaminate other foods so store your bird safely away from other food in the refrigerator. Even when sufficiently cooked, poultry presents certain dangers says Healthline, particularly when dealing with a turkey that’s been left out to develop bacteria for hours on Thanksgiving day.
• Don’t reheat anything from a buffet. Buffet dishes that have been left out for hours at room temperature are breeding grounds for dangerous microorganisms, says the Food and Drug Administration. If you are hosting a buffet-style party, never add fresh food to an already-filled serving dish and discard any perishables left out for more than two hours at room temperature in cool weather or one hour in warm weather.
Bear in mind that eating leftovers straight from the fridge increases the risk of contracting foodborne illness. To reduce the risk, cook all foods to at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit, say experts.
If you do get sick, despite all your precautions, Bacharach suggests throwing out the foods you suspect may have made you ill immediately.
“It is advisable to begin consuming foods which can naturally counteract the effects of the illness,” she said. “This includes ginger, thanks to its anti-inflammatory and warming properties, and green onions, which are high in antibacterial and antimicrobial content.”
These can be brewed into a tea and sipped while symptoms persist. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and keep your meals light if you have an appetite.
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