As we get closer to Christmas most of us are already busy planning what that Christmas day meal will entail. For most of us it is a day of excess where we make enough food to last us weeks, but just because we have enough for weeks it doesn’t mean we should be eating it for weeks to come, especially if food has been left out at room temperature for hours.
Room temperature, also referred to as ‘the danger zone” is the temperature at which bacterium thrive and multiply. It is important that we ask ourselves:
- Have my leftovers been kept out of the “danger zone”?
- Was my food cooled rapidly?
- Were my leftovers stored safely in the fridge?
- How do I properly reheat my leftovers so I know they’re safe?
It is important that if you want to prolong the life of your food that you refrigerate it as soon as possible after eating. Experts suggest that leftovers be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking and perishable foods left at room temperature for more than 2 hours should be discarded in the bin.
It is also important to store leftovers properly. An article on www.foodsafetynews.com explains:
Cool Food Rapidly
To cool food rapidly and make sure it reaches a safe refrigerator-storage temperature at 40 F or below, divide large amounts of food into shallow containers. The smaller the portion size, the faster food will cool in the refrigerator. A big pot of turkey stew will cool more slowly than several small containers, leaving the potential for increased bacterial growth in the middle of the pot that remains in the danger zone for a longer time.
Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. Although it seems energy-efficient to cool foods on the counter before putting them in the refrigerator, if they are left out too long or cooled too slowly, bacteria can grow and reach levels that can cause illness if foods are not cooled quickly.
The smell and look of leftovers aren’t always good indicators for whether foods are safe or not. A general rule of thumb is to use refrigerated leftovers within three to four days; frozen foods should be eaten within four months.
It is also important that leftovers are properly thawed and reheated. Leftovers can be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave but the best way is to thaw using the slowest method.
If your leftovers have been frozen and you’d like to eat only a portion of them, thaw the leftovers in the refrigerator, remove the portion you’d like to reheat, and thereafter refreeze the remainder of the thawed leftovers without reheating.
When reheating leftovers use a food thermometer to check that the food has been heated to a sufficiently high temperature. Allow foods to stand for a few minutes after taking them out of the microwave and during this time the heat will continue to distribute through the food.