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Handling Thanksgiving Leftovers

Holiday Leftovers

Nashville, Ark. – Thanksgiving is the time of year when family comes together to reflect on the blessings they have received throughout the year. It is also a time for food! Many of us will be thinking of the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen including turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie and all the other foods and traditions that go along with it.

            Once the big meal is over, you are now faced with what to do with the leftovers. Planning for leftovers begins even before the initial preparation begins. Start by following food safety rules when handling your turkey, so you will have some leftover for those sandwiches, casseroles, etc.

            The first rule of thumb is to debone the turkey and refrigerate all leftovers in shallow containers within 2 hours of cooking. While this may seem like a short time bacteria that causes a food borne illness can multiply to undesirable levels on perishable food left at room temperature for longer than that. Remember, all foods contain some bacteria! It’s not a problem if we handle it properly.

            Gravy, stuffing and meat need to be stored separately from each other. It will be necessary to remove the stuffing from the bird and store it in a separate container. Remember, you must debone your turkey anyway. Go ahead a put the stuffing in a separate container.

            If you would like to save the turkey carcass for soup later on, that is possible. Refrigerate or freeze it in a zip-top baggie or other food safe, freezer safe container. Be sure to label it with the date before freezing.

            Once you have deboned the turkey and placed it in shallow containers for later use, you will want to use it up within 3 to 4 days. Stuffing and gravy should be used within 1 to 2 days; or you should plan to freeze these foods. When reheating, make sure you reheat it properly to 165 degrees. Temperature should be taken from the middle of the dish, not the edges.

            If you choose to freeze leftovers for longer storage, package them in a freezer containers, paper, or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Proper wrapping will prevent “freezer burn”, those dried-out white patches on the surface of the food that affects the taste.

            Be sure to label and write what it is in the package and place on the food package. Frozen leftovers should be used within 2 to 6 months for best quality.

            Cooked turkey may be eaten cold or reheated. When reheating your turkey in the oven, set the oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees. Reheat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature. To keep the turkey moist and prevent it from drying out, add a little broth or water to the pan and cover.

            Microwave ovens are great for heating foods quickly. However, food safety rules apply here too. When using the microwave, cover the food and rotate it for even heating. You will also need to allow some standing time to insure the food is heated through. Check the temperature and make sure it reaches 165 degrees in the middle.

            The holidays are a time to share with family and friends. No one wants to be sick especially this time of the year. Following food safety rules will help keep everyone healthy so you can enjoy the holidays!

            For more information on food safety during the holidays, contact the Howard County Extension Office at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse. If you have food safety questions on Thanksgiving Day, check out the website, Let’s Talk Turkey-USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service at

            I would like to wish everyone a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving Holiday!

 Recipe of the Week

            Turkey can be used in place of chicken for most recipes. Find your favorite casserole, soup or main dish recipe that calls for chicken and substitute cooked turkey instead. Here is a suggestion. This recipe is great for anyone, even diabetics!

Southwestern Turkey Soup

2/3 cup low-sodium beef broth

1 can (12 ounces) no-salt tomato paste

1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (11 ounces) Mexican-style corn, drained

1 ½ cups diced cooked turkey (leftover cooked turkey works great)

3 green onions, sliced

2 to 3 Tablespoons chili powder

1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies

1 2/3 cups water

            In a large saucepan, combine beef broth and tomato paste. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition information per serving: 225 Calories, 32 g. Carbohydrates, 631 mg. Sodium, 20 g. Protein, 3 g. Fat

By Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Jean Ince
County Extension Agent - Staff Chair
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main St, Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517

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