Safely Dealing With Leftovers by Toby Amidor in Food Safety, Healthy Tips, April 10, 2009
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Here are some reminder tips for properly cooling and defrosting leftovers — especially important after digging into a big feast.
Before You Cook It
The last time I left meat out to defrost overnight, my 120-pound German Shepherd ate it! Serves me right for using an incorrect thawing technique — that is, on the counter. Briskets and turkeys are traditional holiday dishes that need particular attention when defrosting. Remember that large items take time to defrost — so make room and plan ahead! Meat is a hazardous food and many contain bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella. Instead of letting the bacteria party all night and reproduce on your meat (each bacterium doubles every 20 minutes), slow them down by placing them in the refrigerator for about two days before you cook it. To be safe, store on a lower shelf on a tray or wrapped so juices don’t drip onto ready-to-eat foods such as cakes, fruits or veggies.
If the meat is still a little frozen when you need to cook it, run cool water over the meat making sure nothing else is in the sink (the last thing you need to bacteria running on your dishes and sponges — gross!).
After the Feast
Leaving food out for hours after the festivities is another potential for disaster. Numerous people handled and served themselves from these dishes (I know, a disgusting thought and why I’m not fond of buffets). Make sure you don’t give any of the newly introduced bacteria time to multiply in the food.
Large pieces of leftover meat should be sliced about 2-to-3 inches thick and lined on a tray. Cover and refrigerate immediately. Soups, stews and chili also need to be poured into smaller containers or pots. Stainless steel allows the heat to dissipate easily and is typically used in restaurants.
You can also create an ice bath in your kitchen sink and place the containers on the ice, stirring occasionally. Using a thermometer can help make sure your food has cooled to around 70°F, at which time you can place in the refrigerator loosely covered.
Never place a large stockpot of hot soup in the refrigerator or freezer unless you want your electric bill to skyrocket! The heated food can raise the interior temperature and force your refrigerator to work overtime to cool down again. It can also take several days for the food to cool, making the temperatures perfect for bacteria to grow. Cooked food should not be refrigerated for more than 7 days (FDA recommendation), and some foods such as fish should be eaten with 2-3 days tops.
Reheat only what you need and not the entire batch. This helps maintain freshness and quality to your food. Make sure you bring liquids to a boil, and check the center of warmed-up food with a thermometer to be sure it reaches 165ºF. It shouldn’t take more than two hours to reheat the food so the internal temperature reads 165ºF. This will make sure you got rid of any of those invisible guys that might be lurking, and keep you from regretting digging in again later.