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VERIFY: Should you refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool first?

According to the USDA, 76 percent of respondents in a recent study said they would refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature.


Thanksgiving might be over, but chances are, you’ll be eating the leftovers for days to come. 

The Verify team finds out if you should refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature first and other helpful tips. 

“Thanksgiving is notorious for people wanting to leave food out to graze throughout the day,” said Mary Ruttman, a sanitarian with the Kent County Health Department. “The longer you leave it out, the more bacteria that grows. And it's a notorious holiday that people end up getting sick.”

To avoid that, there are a few key questions to ask, starting with this: How long did you leave the food out?

“It’s always good after a couple hours, to start packing up your food," Ruttman said. "Start shredding that meat, getting it into smaller pieces, putting it into smaller containers, and putting it in the fridge.”

Stick to the two hour rule, which leads to our Verify question: Should you let leftovers completely cool?

No, according to the, U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s not necessary and could make the food unsafe. 

“The quicker you can get it in the fridge after eating it, the better," Ruttman said. 

The USDA's website states, "Leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, even if they still have steam or heat coming off them."

Just make sure the food is allowed to vent. 

“The key thing is having uncovered containers, leave things vented if you're doing Ziploc bags, allowing things to cool properly,” Ruttman said. 

And finally, when should everything be all gobbled up?

“It should be three to four days after,” Ruttman said. 

That means you have until Monday to use or freeze leftovers. You can reheat frozen leftovers without thawing, just be sure to cover them.

“It's always best to try to make it reach 165," Ruttman said. "But if you're consuming it right away, it actually doesn't have to reach any certain temperature at all.”

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