Food Storage Basics for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Thanksgiving conjures two types of memories for me: family and leftovers.  My mother would get up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey in the oven.  My grandparents would come over late in the morning; they would bring the stuffing.  We all watched the Macy’s Day Parade while my mother cooked.  Why didn’t we ever offer to help?  I am thinking I wasn’t a very good daughter.


One of the best things about Thanksgiving is leftovers!  The husband and I have already started thinking about how we are going to use our turkey leftovers for days following the big meal.  We might cook a turkey pot pie.  A turkey Benedict is also on the menu.  It is important if you are thinking of keeping your leftovers, that you know how long the food will last in the refrigerator before it has to be tossed out.

  • Turkey – Cut the turkey into smaller pieces before storing.  Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days or freeze for 2 to 3 months.
  • Homemade gravy – Store in an airtight container and bring to a boil before serving leftovers.  Refrigerating for 1 to 2 days.  Freeze for 2 to 3 months.
  • Cooked stuffing – Store leftovers in a covered plastic or glass container.  Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.  Freeze for 1 month.
  • Mashed potatoes, yams, and green been casserole – Store leftovers in a covered plastic or glass container.  Refrigerate for 3 to 5 days.  Freeze for 10 to 12 months.  Note: baked potatoes do not freeze well.
  • Baked apple pie – Store in a pantry for up to 2 days.  Refrigerate for 2 to 3 days after pantry storage.  Freeze for 1 to 2 months.


It is very likely that no matter how many people that will be attending your Thanksgiving soiree, there will be leftovers.  Ensure that your leftovers last you until the last crumb is devoured and that nothing has to be tossed out by using a few food storage basics. These food storage tips can help you steer clear of food-borne illnesses.  The FDA recommends the following:

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables right away. Foods that require refrigeration should be put in the refrigerator as soon as you get them home.
  • Stick to the “two-hour rule” for leaving items needing refrigeration out at room temperature.
  • Never allow meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or produce or other foods that require refrigeration to sit at room temperature for more than two hours—one hour if the air temperature is above 90° F.  This also applies to items such as leftovers, “doggie bags,” and take-out foods.
  • Also, when putting food away, don’t crowd the refrigerator or freezer so tightly that air can’t circulate.
  • Use ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Refrigerated ready-to-eat foods such as luncheon meats should be used as soon as possible. The longer they’re stored in the refrigerator, the more chance Listeria, a bacterium that causes food-born illness, can grow, especially if the refrigerator temperature is above 40° F (4° C).
  • Be alert for spoiled food. Anything that looks or smells suspicious should be thrown out. Mold is a sign of spoilage. It can grow even under refrigeration. Mold is not a major health threat, but it can make food unappetizing. The safest practice is to discard food that is moldy.
  • Be aware that food can make you very sick even when it doesn’t look, smell, or taste spoiled. That’s because food-born illnesses are caused by pathogenic bacteria, which are different from the spoilage bacteria that make foods “go bad.” Many pathogenic organisms are present in raw or under cooked meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and eggs; unclean water; and on fruits and vegetables. Keeping these foods properly chilled will slow the growth of bacteria.
  • Following the other recommended food handling practices, such as cleaning your hands, surfaces and produce, separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, and cook to safe temperatures, will further reduce your risk of getting sick.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful and safe holiday!  Happy Thanksgiving!