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How Long Do Thanksgiving Leftovers Last? Not As Long As You'd Like

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Between the pumpkin pies and gigantic turkey, Thanksgiving is a dream come true for the hungry foodie. And because everyone looks forward to enjoying remnants for another week, it’s a good idea to look into how long Thanksgiving leftovers actually last. After all, people don’t take Thanksgiving dinner lightly. Half the holiday fun is all about eating until your shirt buttons pop. Consequently, prepping for dinner means cooking monstrous portions that are big enough to feed an army.

Yet, despite the second (and third) round of delicious Thanksgiving grub, there are almost always leftovers. This is even more likely to happen if you have a big family or just hosted a pot luck. It can also happen if you have to work that night. Wrapping up food and saving it in the refrigerator will let you savor the best of Thanksgiving even beyond the actual celebration.

This is where it can get tricky. The longer food sits in the refrigerator, the greater the risk for food poisoning. And according to Mayo Clinic, this is directly caused by harmful bacteria in food. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also shares that safe practices are crucial to prevent bacterial growth in leftover meals.

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So what does this mean for Thanksgiving remnants? FSIS stated that they should be eaten within three to four days after being stored in the refrigerator — just like any other food. And although stuffing and mashed potatoes may have a special place in your heart, they shouldn’t be treated differently than normal leftovers.  

It’s also especially important to wrap remnants properly. Beforehand, food should be cooled as quickly as possible to inhibit bacterial growth. FSIS suggests divvying up larger portions into small containers to speedup the cooling process. Afterward, the leftovers should be sealed in airtight packaging to avoid cross-contamination. This will also keep out unwanted moisture that can further promote bacteria growth.

When stored in the freezer, Thanksgiving leftovers can last indefinitely. So if you aren’t positive that you can finish the leftovers within four days, the freezer may be your best bet. Keep in mind that reheated food may not taste as fresh after a long run in the freezer.

Whatever you do, make an effort to prevent food waste by storing (and eating) leftovers properly. If you've barely touched them within two or three days, consider transferring everything to the freezer. Otherwise, chuck anything that has a strange odor or color. It's the best (and safest) way to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.