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Leftovers: Let’s Keep the Best Part of Thanksgiving Safe

Posted by Jesus Garcia, Public Affairs Specialist, USDA-FSIS in Health and Safety
Nov 19, 2021

The year’s biggest meal will be over soon, but delicious Thanksgiving leftovers will sustain you from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. Keep your favorite leftovers safe by following these food safety steps:

  • Remember the Two-Hour Rule: Refrigerate perishable items within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator. After two hours, perishable food enters the "Danger Zone" (between 40 F and 140 F), where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause food to become unsafe. Perishable food should be discarded if left out for longer than two hours, so refrigerate or freeze items to prevent food waste.
  • Use Shallow Containers: After you break down your Thanksgiving meal into smaller portions, store leftover food in shallow containers in the refrigerator until the Monday after Thanksgiving, or in the freezer for later use.
  • Freeze or Consume Within Four Days: Use the Monday after Thanksgiving as a reminder that it is the last day you can safely eat leftovers. If you want to keep leftovers longer, freeze them within that four-day period. Frozen food stays safe indefinitely, though the quality may decrease over time (best quality if eaten within six months).
  • Reheat to 165 F: Make sure your reheated leftovers reach 165 F as measured with a food thermometer. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies safely by bringing them to a rolling boil.
  • Microwave Food Safely: When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave safe glass or ceramic dish and add some liquid, if needed. Because microwaves have cold spots, check the internal temperature of the food in several places with a food thermometer after allowing a resting time.

For more questions about food safety, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or email to reach a food safety expert or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety