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Refrigerator Tips: How to Properly Store Holiday Leftovers

by Bill Welles

Quickly storing your holiday leftovers is the best way to preserve freshness so your food will last. A good rule of thumb for food safety is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. However, if your holiday feast isn’t equipped with warming trays or restaurant-style buffet servers, start cleaning up and refrigerating leftovers within two hours of eating (or right before dessert).

How to Store Leftovers

Leftovers should be cooled down as quickly as possible but not stored in the refrigerator if they’re still steaming—the heat from the food can raise the internal temperature of the fridge and start to warm already refrigerated items. By the time you’re done eating, your food should be close to cool so wrap it up and get it in the fridge. Store your side dishes into several shallow containers rather than one large Tupperware and don’t stack containers in the fridge as this can trap heat. The more surface area that’s exposed to the chilly temperatures, the faster your stuffing and turkey will cool.

Once you’ve separated the white and dark meat, it can be tempting to put the leftover green beans and sweet potatoes in an empty serving dish and cover with tin foil or plastic wrap, but it’s best to transfer all foods into clean, smaller containers so you can separate items that might take longer to cool and save space in the refrigerator.

How Long to Store Leftovers in the Fridge?

Holiday leftovers are best stored for no more than five days. Try to reheat what you’ll be serving for one portion instead of warming the entire container at once. It’s safe enough to heat the entire dish and re-store what you don’t eat, but the food will continue to dry out and lose flavor and moisture the more it’s heated.

Use a meat thermometer to make sure your turkey and ham have been reheated to a proper eating temperature, bring soups, gravy, and sauces to a full boil, and cover your food before warming so the heat is contained.

What About Freezing Leftovers?

Freezing food prevents the growth of bacteria to keep your leftovers safe. As long as your food is fully frozen, it can be stored indefinitely. For the best taste and least amount of freezer burn, try to eat within two or three months.

Side dishes are best-stored in airtight containers or plastic freezer bags. Meat should be wrapped in foil and sealed tightly, (be sure to squeeze out all the air before sealing) and leave a little space in the container for soup as liquids will slightly expand as they freeze.

Most importantly: don’t forget to label and date all your leftovers—everything will look the same once it’s wrapped and frozen.

Additional Tips

Make room in your refrigerator and freezer before you chow down to avoid shuffling condiments and dressings around after dinner. Use up perishable goods like cheeses, yogurt, and lunchmeat to leave extra space for your cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Be sure you have plenty of freezer-safe containers all with accompanying lids. There’s nothing worse than tearing apart the cabinets looking for the matching lid. Organize them before the meal so everyone can pitch in with cleanup once the meal has concluded.

Try to avoid opening and closing the refrigerator doors frequently until your food has had proper time to cool down and keep plenty of ice on hand in case you need to quickly cool down soups or gravies—a pot of hot soup can warm up the fridge in no time.

At Spencer’s TV & Appliance, we never want you to feel limited when it comes to your cooking or refrigeration needs. Visit our store to learn more about the various refrigerator styles and functions that will help you properly store your leftover meals all year long.