Holiday meal leftovers have almost as many traditions as the meals themselves. From turkey salad sandwiches to turkey tetrazzini, cooks want the leftovers for their traditional holiday meals to be as good, and as safe, as the feast itself.
Leftovers should be put in the refrigerator or freezer soon after a holiday meal to avoid temperatures that promote bacteria growth and turn food stale. As a general rule, it is best to refrigerate leftovers within two hours of when the food is put on the table.
The sooner you store leftovers, the better. While the turkey is at room temperature, approximately 72 degrees F, it is in the temperature danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees F. This is the temperature range in which bacteria can grow. The cooler temperature of the refrigerator, 35 to 40 degrees F, slows down metabolic processes and therefore slows the growth of harmful bacteria.
To keep turkey leftovers at their best, remove the meat from the bone and put the turkey into the refrigerator to lower the temperature. To make it easier to serve later, separate the turkey into portions of the appropriate size to serve to your family, package it, and freeze it. For best results, wrap the turkey in small, airtight packages or store in plastic containers. If you don’t plan to use the leftovers soon, it is best to freeze it immediately. Turkey leftovers can be used for casseroles, soups, burgers, and sandwiches.
Labeling leftover packages with the date they were frozen is helpful for later use. Refrigerated turkey and gravy should be used within three or four days; stuffing and prepared salads within one or two days. Frozen turkey should be used within four months. Turkey frozen in broth can be used within six months.
Reheat leftovers, including stuffing, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Gravies should be reheated to a rolling boil.
Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension
Quick Turkey Casserole
2 cups sliced onions
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1 can reduced fat, cream of mushroom soup
2 cups cooked long grain rice
1 ½ cup cubed turkey, cooked
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
¼ cup fine cornflake crumbs
1/8 teaspoon paprika
In a nonstick skillet, cook onions and sugar in butter and oil over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Place cream cheese in a shallow microwaveable dish and microwave on high for 20 – 30 seconds until soft. Add soup. Stir until blended. Add rice, turkey, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and microwave on high 3 – 4 minutes or until heated through. Toss onions with cornflake crumbs and arrange over turkey mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Microwave, uncovered on high for 1 to 2 minutes or until topping is heated through.
Sandra R. Cain is the Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences at the Bladen County Center.