JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thanksgiving leftovers can be a blessing or a curse -- and the way you pack them can make all the difference.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the bacteria Clostridium perfringens is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. Outbreaks most often occur in November and December. According to the CDC, many of these outbreaks have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef.
It's important to make sure you avoid the most common mistakes with storing your leftovers.
Storing hot food
The owners of Bread & Board in Five Points say the number one mistake people make is putting away hot food in Tupperware with a closed lid.
"If you leave it at room temp, then it can go straight into the cooler. We always recommend leaving something open until it gets a chill on it, then you can close it," Dwayne Beliakoff, co-owner of Bread & Board said. By putting a lid on hot food, you’re containing the temperature and taking it beyond the three hours that is recommended for food to safely cool down. You may also be tempted to just cover your remaining turkey with a sheet of aluminum foil, but avoid that mistake this year. "Some of the internal pieces near the bone might remain hot beyond the three hours that is recommended," Beliakoff said. Take the time to slice the remaining bits of turkey into smaller pieces, and let it cool slightly before covering it with plastic wrap.
Only store food in shallow containers to decrease cooling time.
When to pack up
It’s not unusual for folks to pick at leftovers throughout the day. One of the best parts of the holiday is going back for seconds, or thirds, hours later. But how long can you really leave food out before it’s time to start packing up? "We really do recommend that within the first hour and a half to two hours, that you start breaking down and start getting things cooled," Beliakoff said.
What to freeze
Knowing which items to freeze is a good start.
Avoid freezing cooked vegetables like cauliflower. This prevents them from turning mushy when you reheat.
Stuffing, dressings, casseroles, and cooked turkey can last two to six months in the freezer. But refrigerated items start to taste bad after just three to four days. For the Thanksgiving staples you do store, Consumer Reports suggests using the two hour rule. Refrigerate any leftovers within two hours of cooking to prevent bacteria from growing.
One last piece of advice: Beliakoff said not to throw away the turkey carcass. The bones from your leftover turkey can be used for stock. Just add throw some onions, carrots, and celery into a pot, add water and let it simmer.
How to travel with leftovers
If you’re traveling back home with leftovers, keep them in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. If you’re planning to pack leftovers on your flight, some items need to be checked.
Pies, cakes, stuffing , and casseroles are okay to carry-on the flight with you.
Gravy, cranberry sauce and wine should go in checked bags because they are not solid foods.
TSA says if you can spill it or pour it, it needs to go in your checked luggage.