INDIANAPOLIS — If your family doesn’t polish off that 20-pound turkey, pot of sweet potatoes, and the half-dozen pies your guests brought, you can just pop the leftovers in the fridge and eat them all week, right? Not quite, says Douglas H. Webb, MD, Medical Director for Infection Control at Indiana University Health.
“Refrigeration only slows down the growth of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness, it doesn’t stop it,” he explains. “The best way to keep down the bacterial load down is to freeze your leftovers; otherwise, keep them in the refrigerator for only a few days and then toss them.”
According the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 Americans will suffer from food poisoning each year, which can be caused by undercooking, improper food handling and eating food that has spoiled. This can result in vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain,and fever, and it’s particularly dangerous for babies, pregnant women, seniors and those with compromised immune systems, explains Webb.
Forget the sniff test — you can’t always tell if food has gone bad by its taste, color, or smell. Instead, follow these guidelines from the Partnership for Food Safety Education (fightbac.org), a non-profit supported by the CDC and FDA that aims to reduce cases of foodborne illness.
Here are some tips for dealing with those leftovers:
- Seal and store quickly: If you place a loose piece of plastic wrap over that pie, harmful microbes will find a way to get in more quickly. Instead, use sealable, airtight containers, and refrigerate the food as soon as the meal is over, rather than letting it sit out while you catch the football game. Ideally, leftovers should go in the fridge within two hours of being cooked to prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold in you
- Make sure your refrigerator is set at the right temperature: the above recommendations are based on a standard of 40 degrees — if your fridge is even a few degrees warmer, bacteria will multiply much faster.
- Label, label, label: “I used to laugh at my mom for writing the date on everything she put in the fridge, but I realize now how important it is!” says Myatt, who points out that even if you have a rough idea of when you stashed that string-bean casserole in the back of the fridge, the rest of your family may not. “If your teenager is rooting around looking for a snack, he might pull out something well past its expiration,” she says. A sticker or piece of masking tape with the date on it may be just the thing to stop him before he swallows a mouthful of bacteria.
- Take care of yourself: If you do find yourself with stomach pains, nausea, or diarrhea within a few hours to one day after eating leftovers, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. If your symptoms don’t subside within 24 hours, you have persistent vomiting or bloody stools, or are at risk because of other health issues, see a doctor or go to an emergency room right away, suggests Dr. Webb.
Source: IU Health