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Good Question: How Long Can You Keep Leftovers?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — If turkey sandwiches, turkey soup and turkey a la king are on your menu over weekend, it’s good to know long it’s safe to eat Thanksgiving leftovers.

“Just three to four days,” said Debra Sheats, the director of Nutrition and Dietetics at St. Catherine University.

Sheats follows the motto, “when it doubt, throw it out.” Food can be frozen, though, to avoid food-borne illnesses. She recommends a few weeks in a refrigerator freezer and up to three months in a deep freezer.

“Those bacteria multiply if we leave things at room temperature,” she said. “In the refrigerator, the growth is slowed, but it still continues at a slower rate.”

On Thanksgiving Day, Sheats recommends putting the uneaten food back in the refrigerator after two hours. Hot foods should be stored in containers no more than two inches tall, so the food in the middle can cool enough.

“It’s called the 2x2x4 rule,” she said. “Within two hours, leftovers go in to the refrigerator in containers two inches deep and then use the leftovers within four days.”

When you bring the leftovers back out to eat, Sheats says they should be heated to 165 degrees. Sauces and gravies should be brought back to boiling.

“If you have the turkey sandwich, maybe the first day,” she said. “I wouldn’t wait three or four days on that one.”

And, as for the smell test – Sheats says that doesn’t really work.

“You can’t always tell. Sometimes food that’s spoiled doesn’t really smell any different and you certainly don’t want to take a taste,” Sheats said.

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