How to safely store Thanksgiving leftovers to make sure they last

Dietitian says leftovers shouldn’t be left out for more than 2 hours after being cooked

DETROIT – Leftovers are a staple of a big Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s important to make sure you store them safely and in a way that makes sure they can last.

“Food containers can vary, but really, the most important thing is to make sure that it’s really well-sealed and that it’s air-tight,” said Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic.

Before going into the refrigerator, leftovers should also be divided into smaller portions when storing so that they cool more quickly.

Czerwony stressed that leftovers must be placed on a shelf above any raw foods in the refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination.

She said the food you plan to save should not sit out for more than two hours after being cooked. If cooked food is left at room temperature for more than two hours, it will enter the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when bacteria can grow more rapidly.

Once all the food is packed up, Czerwony has a guideline for how long leftovers are safe to eat.

“What we always recommend is 3-4 days maximum in the refrigerator,” Czerwony said. “So an easy way to remember is you have to have all those leftovers eaten by Cyber Monday. A lot of times, patients will want to keep their food longer, and so you can certainly freeze it, and you can keep that up to six months.”

When reheating leftovers, Czerwony said you should have a thermometer and make sure the food is reheated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any possible bacteria.


About the Authors:

You can watch Kimberly Gill weekdays anchoring Local 4 News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. and streaming live at 10 p.m. on Local 4+. She's an award-winning journalist who finally called Detroit home in 2014. Kim has won Regional Emmy Awards, and was part of the team that won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in 2022.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.