Safely Dealing With Leftovers

Here are some tips for properly cooling and defrosting leftovers -- especially important after those big holiday feasts.

Here are some reminder tips for properly cooling and defrosting leftovers -- especially important after digging into a big feast.

Before You Cook It

The last time I left meat out to defrost overnight, my 120-pound German Shepherd ate it! Serves me right for using an incorrect thawing technique -- that is, on the counter. Briskets and turkeys are traditional holiday dishes that need particular attention when defrosting. Remember that large items take time to defrost -- so make room and plan ahead! Meat is a hazardous food and many contain bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella. Instead of letting the bacteria party all night and reproduce on your meat (each bacterium doubles every 20 minutes), slow them down by placing them in the refrigerator for about two days before you cook it. To be safe, store on a lower shelf on a tray or wrapped so juices don’t drip onto ready-to-eat foods such as cakes, fruits or veggies.

If the meat is still a little frozen when you need to cook it, run cool water over the meat making sure nothing else is in the sink (the last thing you need to bacteria running on your dishes and sponges -- gross!).

After the Feast

Leaving food out for hours after the festivities is another potential for disaster. Numerous people handled and served themselves from these dishes (I know, a disgusting thought and why I’m not fond of buffets). Make sure you don’t give any of the newly introduced bacteria time to multiply in the food.

Large pieces of leftover meat should be sliced about 2-to-3 inches thick and lined on a tray. Cover and refrigerate immediately. Soups, stews and chili also need to be poured into smaller containers or pots. Stainless steel allows the heat to dissipate easily and is typically used in restaurants.

You can also create an ice bath in your kitchen sink and place the containers on the ice, stirring occasionally. Using a thermometer can help make sure your food has cooled to around 70°F, at which time you can place in the refrigerator loosely covered.

Never place a large stockpot of hot soup in the refrigerator or freezer unless you want your electric bill to skyrocket! The heated food can raise the interior temperature and force your refrigerator to work overtime to cool down again. It can also take several days for the food to cool, making the temperatures perfect for bacteria to grow. Cooked food should not be refrigerated for more than 7 days (FDA recommendation), and some foods such as fish should be eaten with 2-3 days tops.

Reheating Leftovers

Reheat only what you need and not the entire batch. This helps maintain freshness and quality to your food. Make sure you bring liquids to a boil, and check the center of warmed-up food with a thermometer to be sure it reaches 165ºF. It shouldn’t take more than two hours to reheat the food so the internal temperature reads 165ºF. This will make sure you got rid of any of those invisible guys that might be lurking, and keep you from regretting digging in again later.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How Safe Is Your Supermarket?

We all buy food from somewhere- the grocery store, farmers’ market, membership clubs, or specialty market. But even these places must follow food safety practices to keep food safe. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Keep your eyes peeled for some of these frequent “ick” factors wherever you shop.

Picking Safe, Sustainable Fish

Fish is healthy eats but when it comes to shopping for it, things can get confusing. Learn how to make the smartest (and most eco-friendly) choices.

Packing a Safe Lunch

A study published in Pediatrics may change the way you pack your child’s school lunch. Find out what you can do to keep your child safe from food-borne illness.

The Real Deal on Guarana

This new caffeine alternative is all the rage in energy drinks. A few weeks ago a client told me she was drinking guarana soda instead of coffee because she was pregnant. The young woman was floored to find that it contains much more caffeine than coffee. This inspired me to write this post---guarana is not always safe. Read up on the facts and find out if it’s right for you.

What's the Deal with Hemp?

Hemp products are becoming increasingly popular, but what exactly is hemp? To answer a few burning questions…yes, hemp is a species of Cannabis sativa, but no, it’s not the same as marijuana.

Shopping for the Safest Cookware

What cookware you use can affect your food and leach metals, both good and bad, into your dishes. Here are the common types of pots and pans and what you should keep in mind.

How to Detox Your Diet Safely

Many people start the new year with a detox diet, but juice cleanses and expensive detox programs can be unsafe. Find out the safe, healthy way to clean up your diet for 2013.

Are Plastic Food Containers Really Safe?

Recent studies have suggested that a chemical called bisphenol-A (a.k.a. BPA), which is found in plastic containers, is hazardous to your health. Time to clear out the cupboards and switch to safer alternatives.

The Nukes of Hazard: Safe Microwaving

There’s more to know about microwaves than which buttons to press! Like many of you, I couldn’t live without my microwave-- I just reheated some leftover Chinese food (yes, even I splurge!) and warmed up my kid’s hot chocolate. Here’s what you need to know the next time you pop something in the microwave.

Healthy Debate: Are Detox Diets Safe?

Sure, it's tempting to try a detox or cleanse diet after all that Thanksgiving turkey, but are they safe? Here's what experts at the American Dietetic Association's recent Food and Nutrition Expo had to say about these controversial diets.