As the holidays quickly approach, most people gather around a common centerpiece — food. Whether your holiday dinner is homecooked or enjoyed at a restaurant, it’s important to avoid some common mistakes when taking leftovers to-go or getting stuck with several unfinished food dishes. Let’s learn more about leftovers and how to best handle them.

Eat your leftovers before bacteria do

What makes food "go bad" is actually the reproduction of bacteria on the food, according to Phys.org. Bacteria grow fastest between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Even when food is cooked at high

temperatures, the bacteria are never completely eliminated.

Food that has gone bad may smell bad because the number of bacteria in the food is very high. The bacteria are actually eating your food. This decomposition process releases chemicals into the food that can smell pretty nasty. The strains of bacteria that are the most harmful tend to grow more on protein-rich foods.

Remember for leftovers, it’s 2-to-4

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that you should avoid keeping food out at room temperature for no more than two hours. Perishables left out for more than two hours should be thrown away. If you’re stuffed to the gills and are handed a to-go plate, or you bring home leftovers from a restaurant, be sure to get it sealed or wrapped tightly and tossed in the fridge as soon as possible. This helps keep bacteria out and moisture in to hold the flavor.

Leftovers can be left in the refrigerator for up to four days. After that, the longer you wait to eat them, the more you increase your chances of getting food poisoning, according to the Mayo Clinic. You can also freeze your leftovers for three to four months, or even longer, but you run the risk of the food losing its moisture and flavor. And if you ever have any doubt, toss it out.

Make the most of leftovers

Some leftovers taste great the next day. Some do not. And some leftovers didn’t taste that great when they weren’t leftovers — of course you wouldn’t say that at dinner. One way to get the most out of your leftovers is to use them as ingredients and create a new meal. It’s also a way to eat those main and side dish leftovers in one shot. Try making an omelet or frittata the next morning with your leftovers. Turkey and veggie soups, stews and pot pies can make for good comfort food. You can even use those mashed potatoes and stuffing for pizza toppings. Check out a few more creative leftover recipe ideas.

SafeBee® Top Three:

  1. Avoid keeping food out at room temperature for more than two hours
  2. Leftovers can be left in the refrigerator for up to four days
  3. Bacteria grow fastest between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.