LEFTOVERS ALERT: Thanksgiving is Over! Now What?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 22, 2018

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It’s that time of the year!  The holidays are upon us.  A time when our thoughts turn to family, friends, celebrations, holiday feasts, and yes…leftovers!

Holiday meal leftovers can be just as delectable as the original feast.   The challenge is after dinner, guarding against “left-out leftovers”.  It requires special attention to safe food handling.  Even if you have followed all the food safety recommendation, the potential for food-borne illness can still exist.  Bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses grow rapidly at room temperature and above.

In the holiday frenzy, basic principles can often be overlooked.  Here are some food safety tips to help ensure that your holiday leftovers are safe and delicious the second time around.

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Food safety doesn’t end after the meal is prepared.  The challenge is also safe storage of leftovers.  Reheating will not always destroy harmful bacteria.  Better to keep bacteria from multiplying in the first place.

Prepared foods should be refrigerated after no more than two hours of being left out at room temperature.  Leftovers should be consumed or frozen within four days of cooking.

Remember the rule:

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold!  Bacteria can multiply rapidly between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
  • Don’t leave that turkey out for nibblers. Slice the meat from the turkey carcass.  Store the stuffing/dressing, meat, and any other leftover gravy, mashed potatoes, casseroles or other side dishes, all in individual separate shallow pans or containers to decrease cooling time.  This prevents the food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures (between 40 degree F to 140 degrees) then, date each container and refrigerate or freeze.
  • Avoid consuming leftovers that have been left in the refrigerator for longer than 3 or 4 days (next Tuesday to be exact). Use the freezer to store leftovers for longer periods of time.
  • Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.
  • Frozen turkey will maintain its quality in the freezer for up to four months; stuffing and gravy for one month; and cooked dishes prepared from leftover turkey will freeze well for up to six months.

Keeping these tips for keeping holiday leftovers safe in mind could keep your holiday feast from turning into a holiday disaster.

If you would like more information about using your leftovers safely, please call the USDA Meat and Poultry/Food Safety Hotline:  1-888-674-6854, or check out the food safety website, www.foodsafety.gov.  Or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov available from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Central Standard  Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.

Here are some recipes to use up those turkey leftovers:   Cooked turkey combined with your favorite frozen veggies means you can throw this stir fry together quickly for a healthy weekday dinner.

Vegetable and Turkey Stir Fry


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

thin slices of ginger root (minced)

garlic clove (peeled and minced)

16 ounces turkey (cooked, cut into 1/2 inch cubes)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 2/3 packages vegetables, fresh or frozen (10 ounce package, chopped)

  water (optional)

Optional Gravy

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons soy sauce, low sodium

1/2 cup chicken stock


  1. Heat fry pan. Add oil and heat on high temperature.
  2. Add ginger, garlic, turkey and vegetables. Stir fry about 1 minute to coat with oil.
  3. Adjust heat to prevent scorching. Add sugar. If vegetables are tender, stop cooking at this time.
  4. If the vegetables are firm, add 1-2 tablespoons of water, cover and cook for 2 minutes or until tender.
  5. Serve at once, or if you wish to add a gravy:
  6. Mix the gravy ingredients well, pour over vegetables and turkey, cook for 30 seconds.
  7. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.

Source: Oregon State University Cooperative Extension Service


Turkey Salad with Orange Vinaigrette


1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons vinegar, white wine

2 tablespoons onion (finely chopped)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 dash pepper

1 tablespoon oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

4 cups salad greens (torn)

2 cups cooked turkey breast (cut into julienne strips)

1 1/3 cups mandarin orange sections (drained)

1/2 cup celery (sliced)


  1. In a jar with tight-fitting lid, combine all vinaigrette ingredients; shake well. If you don’t have a container with a tight-fitting lid, place ingredients in a small mixing bowl and mix together with a whisk.
  2. In large bowl, combine all salad ingredients; toss gently.
  3. Serve with vinaigrette. If desired, garnish with fresh strawberries.


You can substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons dried chopped onion for the chopped fresh onion or as recommended on the dried onion container. Prepare the dressing at least 10 minutes before you need it to allow the dried onion to re-hydrate from the fluids in the dressing.

Use white meat leftovers if you’ve prepared a whole turkey and not just the breast portion.

Another way to add crunch to your salad would be to use 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts instead of the celery.  Source: University of Nebraska, Cooperative Extension, Cook it QUICK!