Handling Leftovers Safely
By Paul Rothbart
Generally speaking, the entire amount of food prepared for dinner is not consumed during the meal. Throwing out food is not a good idea, so there are leftovers. They make great lunches for the next day or so, or snacks. Perhaps even another dinner. Large holiday meals produce plenty of leftovers. All foods do spoil at some point and will cause illness if consumed after that time. Handling leftovers, wrapping, storing, and using within a safe window, is extremely important. Here are the ways to enjoy leftovers without the risk of getting sick.
Temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees are the range where bacteria thrives. Hot foods should be placed in the refrigerator before they cool down into this critical range. Refrigeration should happen within two hours of food being cooked or kept hot. Any perishables that have been sitting for more than two hours should be thrown away. Large amounts of food should be divided and stored in shallow containers to ensure it quickly cools to the safe storage temperature.
Thawing Frozen Foods
Freezing will enable foods to last longer, but thawing properly is critical to avoid bacteria growth. Thawing leftovers in the refrigerator is the slowest, but the safest way to do it. This method will raise the temperature and keep it under the dangerous level. Leftovers can also be thawed in cold water, but the proper method must be used for safety. The frozen food should be placed in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent contamination. Place the bag in a bowl of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to speed up the thawing. If using a microwave to thaw leftovers, be sure to heat the food all the way to a safe eating temperature of 165 degrees.
Whether using an oven, or microwave, leftover food must be heated to a safe temperature. This is an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer and be absolutely certain, don't guess or go by feel. Bring sauces, gravies, and soups to a rolling boil in a pot. Keeping leftovers covered while heating will trap in moisture and heat them evenly. Stirring occasionally also helps even heating. When using a microwave, let the foods stand for a few minutes after heating to allow the heat to further distribute.
Enjoying a delicious meal is one of life's great joys. Indulging in it a second time is too. Leftovers also stretch the food budget and prevent wasting good food. But they must be stored and reused safely to avoid bacteria growth that can cause serious illness. Following these guidelines will allow a successful "take two' of a good meal.
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