Stay food safe this Holiday Season

Canadians traditionally enjoy gathering with family and friends for parties, pot lucks, and family gatherings over the holidays and these gatherings regularly generate leftovers. Health Canada would like to remind all Canadians of some basic steps they can take to ensure that leftovers are eaten safely to help reduce the risk of foodborne illness during the holiday season.

Leftovers can be very safe to eat and enjoyed as long as certain food-handling practices are followed:

Handling leftovers

  • Before and after handling leftovers, wash your hands with hot soapy water, as well as all utensils, dishes and work surfaces.
  • For added protection, you may want to sanitize utensils, dishes and work surfaces. Normal household sanitizers or a mild bleach solution (5 ml/1 tsp. bleach per 750 ml/3 cups water) may be used.
  • Keep foods out of the danger zone, between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F) to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Throw away any cooked food left out for more than two hours.
  • Never rely on your nose, eyes or taste buds to judge the safety of food. You cannot tell if food is contaminated by its look, smell or taste.
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

Cooling leftovers

  • Refrigerate all leftovers promptly in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly.
  • Very hot items can first be cooled at room temperature. Refrigerate once steaming stops.
  • Leave the lid off or wrap loosely until the food is cooled to refrigeration temperature.
  • Avoid overstocking the refrigerator to allow cool air to circulate freely.

Storing leftovers

  • Always use a clean container to hold leftovers, or wrap leftovers in leak-proof plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination. Keep different types of leftovers separate.
  • Eat refrigerated leftovers within 2 to 3 days, or freeze them for later use.
  • Date leftovers to help identify the contents and to ensure they are not stored too long.

Defrosting leftovers

  • Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in the microwave. Ensure food is properly sealed.
  • Consume or cook the leftovers immediately after they have thawed.

Reheating leftovers

  • Reheat leftovers to a safe internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
  • Use a digital food thermometer to check the temperature.
  • Bring gravies, soups and sauces to a full, rolling boil and stir during the process.
  • Discard uneaten leftovers after they have been reheated.

Reheating in a microwave

  • Use only containers and plastic wrap designed for use in the microwave.
  • Loosen the lid or wrap to allow steam to escape.
  • Stop the microwave midway through reheating and stir the food so that the heat is evenly distributed.
  • Rotate the plate several times during cooking if your microwave does not have a rotating tray.

To ensure a happy and healthy holiday season and safe food handling all year, remember these four simple rules: cook foods to proper temperatures; chill foods properly in the refrigerator; when storing leftovers, keep raw foods separate from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination; and keep your hands, utensils and work space clean and disinfected.

It’s estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of food-related illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these illnesses could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

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