Be aware of safe handling for leftovers

Sandra R. Cain For Better Living

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. 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. Use the same process with leftover ham. Divide the ham into appropriate size portions, package it and freeze it for later use.

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 and ham 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 – 2 minutes or until topping is heated through.


Ham and Lima Bean Soup

8 ounces dried baby lima beans

2 cups chopped onions

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cans reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 ½ cups cooked, ham, cubed

1 cup carrots, sliced

½ cup water

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

½ teaspoon pepper

Place lima beans in Dutch oven or large pot. Add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans, discarding liquid.

In a large skillet, sprayed with nonstick spray, cook onions and garlic until tender. Stir in the broth, ham, carrots, water, jalapeno, parsley, pepper and lima beans. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 50 minutes or until the beans are tender.

Sandra R. Cain is the Bladen County Extension director. She can be reached at or 910-862-4591.

Sandra R. Cain For Better Living R. Cain For Better Living