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11/29/2013 - Important safety tips for Thanksgiving leftovers

The following tips should help families ensure that Turkey day leftovers are just as safe as when they first hit the dinner table.

There are few guarantees in life, but one thing is certain: When it's Thanksgiving, there will be leftovers.  Not to mention a thousand and one ways in which to eat them, from turkey soup, to sandwiches, pot pies and casseroles.

But as tasty as Thanksgiving reruns may be - oftentimes just as delicious as the first day - there's a risk of using what's leftover longer than what's deemed safe, particularly because on the last Thursday in November, the food that's cooked spends a lot of time unrefrigerated.

The following tips should help families ensure that what they're serving the days following the great feast is just as safe it was when it first hit the dinner table.

A good rule of thumb to follow, according to health experts, is the two-hour rule. This means that if food is unrefrigerated for longer than two hours, it's best to throw it away rather than take the risk of eating it in the days after Thanksgiving. Any food that reaches more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit is considered in the "danger" zone, meaning that it's at the ideal temperature for harmful bacteria to grow on it.

Another way to keep Thanksgiving leftovers fresher longer is by storing them in shallow containers rather than those that are deep. Filling Thanksgiving dinner into Tupperware containers that have a shallow bottom allow the food to cool down quicker once it's refrigerated, making it safer to eat in the days immediately following Turkey Day.

Separate leftovers, especially stuffing
Speaking of storing, something else that's frequently done with leftovers is not separating the stuffing from the turkey. Many families will put the stuffing inside the turkey for efficiency purposes when cooking. However, health experts largely agree that once that first meal has been served, it's time to remove any leftover stuffing from the bird and to store it separately. Otherwise, there's the chance that salmonella could form on the stuffing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne illnesses in the U.S. are fairly common. Based on 2011 estimates, there are approximately 9.4 million illnesses per year, nearly 56,000 of which require hospitalizations that may result in general liability insurance claims if medical costs are substantial.

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