If you watched me on Good Day Columbus last Wednesday, you saw my sweet potato casserole with layers of cheese and Italian sausage. It looked delicious and smelled even better. But no one ate it. Because I wouldn’t let them.
I made the dish the night before (these were make-ahead side dishes, after all). When it came out of the oven, I put it on a cooling rack and prepped the remaining dishes, all of which went into the refrigerator. But somehow I neglected to put the sweet potato casserole in the fridge. When I walked into the kitchen to make my morning coffee, there it sat: golden, crusty — and totally unsafe to eat.
I went through all the internal arguments: It wasn’t left out that long. It wasn’t that warm in the kitchen (it was). It looked fine. If I reheated it long enough, that would kill any potential bacteria. But I knew in my heart that the dish shouldn’t be eaten.
Not to add fear to your holiday stress, but food safety is serious business. The last thing anyone needs with their turkey and stuffing is a side dish of food poisoning. And since it’s completely preventable, I want to give you a few tips to follow:
- Put perishable leftovers in the fridge within two hours. Eat your dinner, then put everything away in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Store leftovers in smaller containers so they chill faster.
- If using a frozen turkey, thaw it in the refrigerator — never on the countertop.
- Clean and sanitize all surfaces that come in contact with the raw turkey before you proceed with the rest of the meal. And if you use a sponge to do that cleaning, toss it and use a fresh one.
- Cook your turkey to 165 degrees. Measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer.
- Use refrigerated leftovers in 3 to 4 days. Frozen leftovers should be used within a month or two.
For additional food safety information, check here.