Store Thanksgiving leftovers safely and quickly

Liz Szabo writes in tomorrow’s USA Today that a Thanksgiving cook’s work doesn’t end when mealtime begins.

Douglas Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University says people need to slice and refrigerate leftover meat within no more than two hours of taking the turkey out of the oven, adding,

"As soon as dinner is done, you better go deal with that turkey.”

Lynne Ausman, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science at Tufts University in Boston, agrees.

"The worst thing you can do is let everyone sit at the table with the turkey there," Ausman says.

To get leftovers cold quickly, cooks should slice meat off the carcass, wrap it in individual plastic bags and refrigerate as soon as possible, Powell says. And be careful not to stack bags on top of each other, because that can trap heat.

"You need to expose more of the surface area so it cools faster," Powell says. "Otherwise, the cool fridge air won’t get to the warm areas of the turkey."

Powell also recommends refrigerating rice — another bacterial hot spot — as soon as possible.

Certain bacteria can proliferate in food at room temperature, producing a toxin that can’t be killed by reheating in the oven or microwave, Ausman says.

For example, a church turkey dinner Nov. 6 in Arkansas City, Kan., sickened at least 159 of the 1,800 people who attended, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Victims suffered diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping and vomiting. One was hospitalized.