Don't leave Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge for too long. Food poisoning risk can rise

If you cooked a Thanksgiving feast last week, chances are you have plenty of leftovers. But don't wait too long to eat or freeze them.

Cooked turkey and other leftovers can be kept in the fridge safely for about three to four days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and say.

But after that time, "the risk of food poisoning goes up," the Mayo Clinic notes, pointing to the growth of bacteria in refrigerated leftovers.

This means that the Monday after Thanksgiving marks a "'use or freeze' deadline," says. If you don't eat or freeze your leftovers by then, it's safest to throw them away.

Here's what you need to know.

How long can leftovers stay in the fridge? Again, most leftovers shouldn't stay in the fridge for more than three to four days, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service notes.

For more specifics, the USDA's FSIS launched the FoodKeeper app, which consumers can consult and use to set reminders when navigating if food is still safe to eat.

How long can leftovers be frozen? If you store leftovers in the freezer, they will last longer. According to, frozen leftovers "will be of best quality within 2-6 months." USDA's FSIS says three to four months is a good limit for frozen food.

"Although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavor when stored for longer times in the freezer," USDA's FSIS writes.

Can I tell if refrigerated food is spoiled? If food is staying longer in the fridge than it should, sometimes it will develop a strange taste or smell from spoilage bacteria, says. But it's not always possible to tell.

Bacteria often don't change a food's appearance, taste or smell, the Mayo Clinic notes – making it hard to tell if food is safe to eat.

How soon should I store my food after eating it? There's not just a deadline for how long food lasts in the fridge. After cooking and eating your holiday meal, it's best to store it as soon as possible.

Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking food, the CDC and say.

"Seventy-six percent of respondents in a recent USDA study said they would refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature first. This is not necessary and could actually make your food unsafe," writes. "Leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, even if they still have steam or heat coming off of them."

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While it's not necessary to wait for food to cool completely, there are some tips for helping your food cool faster. When storing large dishes like a roast turkey, for example, The USDA's FSIS recommends dividing the leftovers into smaller portions across shallow containers.

What about re-heating leftovers? Make sure to reheat leftovers to 165 degrees before eating them, the USDA notes. You can check the temperature using a food thermometer.

Frozen leftovers need to be thawed before cooking – but don't just leave them to thaw on the counter, Mayo Clinic notes. You can thaw leftovers in the fridge, microwave, or with a leakproof container under cold water.