How long are leftovers good for? Your guide to safe holiday nibbling – National

As much as big, hearty meals are part of the holidays for many, so are leftovers.

One specialist is advising Canadians to take precautions to ensure food poisoning doesn’t spoil your post-holiday cheer — especially following a slew of foodborne illnesses recorded this year.

Reports of salmonella outbreaks in connection with cantaloupes sold in at least nine provinces began in November. Since then, six deaths and 153 cases have been confirmed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also recalled ice cream, chocolate-covered raisins, and a number of fresh-cut fruit and enoki mushroom brands this year due to various bacteria contaminations.

While it may be tempting to hold onto leftovers as long as possible, neglecting proper food safety can lead to unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, diarrhea and even a fever.

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If you’re wondering how long your leftovers will be good for, here is your safety guide to stay merry all season.

How should you store leftovers?

Before worrying about whether leftovers have gone bad, microbiologist Jason Tetro says it’s important to start off on the right foot and store the food properly.

“Once you have cooked your meal, then it’s going to cool down and as soon as it cools down, there’s a good likelihood that it will be touched. And when it gets touched, there will be contamination with bacteria,” Tetro told Global News.

He says the key is storing the leftovers in a cool place where the bacteria won’t grow rapidly, such as a fridge or freezer, as long as it’s 4 C or lower.

Click to play video: 'What’s behind the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak?'

What’s behind the cantaloupe salmonella outbreak?

Tetro also advises against serving food in the same containers, boxes or bags they were originally purchased in.

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“What’s going to happen is you’ll introduce your human bacterial contamination into those containers. Always make sure that when you’re serving, you’re doing it in a container that you can wash afterwards. That way you can keep your main container safe,” he said.

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Health Canada also advises Canadians to wash their hands with hot soapy water before and after handling leftovers.

How long are leftovers safe to eat?

Once leftovers have been stored in a cool place, they’ll be good to eat for about two to five days, depending on the food.

Tetro says meat can last for about five days. Within that time you can always reheat it and bring it back up to 70 C.

“I would say that three days is when you should start really thinking about throwing it out,” he said.

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You can tell when meat has started to go bad when it develops a bit of sliminess, Tetro says. Vegetables will start to grow a fungus, which will show up as little white or green spots.

“However, there are still a few bacteria out there that produce what are known as heat-stable toxins. And that means that you may still end up getting sick even though the bacteria are not there anymore,” Tetro said.

Click to play video: 'Turning leftovers into gourmet meals'

Turning leftovers into gourmet meals

Vegetables, eggs and stews can stay safely in the fridge for three to four days, according to Health Canada. Soups last the least amount of time and should be thrown out after two to three days in the fridge.

If you’re hoping to hold onto your leftovers for longer, Health Canada’s guidelines state that meat and veggies can be frozen for up to three months. Poultry, fish, meat broth and gravy are good for up to six months in the freezer and soups can last four months.

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Can you just store leftovers in the oven?

If you don’t want to store your leftovers in the fridge or freezer just yet, any food will remain safe to eat as long as it’s kept at 70 C, Tetro says.

“If you’re keeping it hot — not warm, but hot — then there’s a good likelihood that you’ll be able to be safe in that respect as well,” he said.

Bacteria can’t survive in temperatures over 70 C so you can keep food in a hot oven as long as you want, Tetro says. However, the taste quality will likely not hold up.

What about cutting around the bad parts?

If a few days go by and you notice signs of spoilage, Tetro advises not to try salvaging what’s left of the food.

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While you might be able to get away with cutting around non-liquid-based foods such as bread and overdone turkey, the bacteria contamination may be deeper than you think.

“Even though you might be able to see the colonies that are forming, you may not be able to see all of the bacteria and in many cases you can still get sick from a level of bacteria you cannot see with your eye,” he said.

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