Ovens & Ranges

When Good Leftovers Go Bad!

Don't let bacteria ruin your post-Thanksgiving meal plans


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Most can agree that nothing beats a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. There are few better ways to celebrate than with roast poultry, creamy mashed potatoes, and wholesome pumpkin pie. But some people, myself included, would argue that even better than the fresh cooked holiday feast, is the leftovers.

Who—vegetarians and pescetarians excluded—doesn't love a scrumptious turkey and stuffing sandwich? In fact, with the sheer versatility that leftovers offer, it's a shame they don't last longer in the fridge.

Anyone who has opened a forgotten container of leftovers, only to be greeted with the olfactory equivalent of a punch in the face, knows that bad leftovers are bad news. The bacteria Aeromonas hydrophilla and Pseudomonas putida are to blame for cooked food spoilage. These party-crashers latch onto your leftovers, and if consumed in large quantities can really ruin your day.


[Image credit: Flickr user "rainboweyes"]

So what can be done about it? Well, short of turning your kitchen into a cleanroom, not much unfortunately. You see (hypochondriacs may want to look away), bacteria like Aeromonas hydrophilla can be found on pretty much every item in your kitchen. Any Greek scholars out there have already figured it out, but the reason for the bacterium's prevalence in the modern kitchen is pretty simple: Aeromonas hydrophilla thrives in water. Rinsing your dishes, your utensils, and even your hands in room temperature water exposes them to the bacteria.

Surprisingly, our greatest defense against the various food-borne bacteria is the humble refrigerator. A consistent temperature below 40ºF can slow the growth of certain microbes considerably. In fact, leftovers kept in a fridge capable of consistent temperature regulation could theoretical last as long as six days.

For those unwilling, or unable to invest in the latest and greatest in refrigeration technology, a dishwasher's sanitize cycle should minimize bacterial accumulation. Failing that, nothing beats simply hand washing your dishes with hot water and soap.

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For more details on the science of leftovers check out the Reviewed.com Science Blog

[Hero image: Flickr user "isymonds"]

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