How long you can safely leave out Thanksgiving leftovers

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Put that uneaten turkey and side dishes in the fridge within a couple of hours

One of the perks of spending all that time cooking a huge Thanksgiving meal is that you have leftovers for days.

If you leave that food sitting out too long, however, you could be sick for days, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta warns.

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The bacteria Clostridium perfringens grows in cooked food left at room temperature, the CDC states, and is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning. The major symptoms are vomiting and abdominal cramps within six to 24 hours after eating.

Peak outbreaks of this type of food poisoning occur in November and December, and many have been linked to foods commonly served during the holidays, such as turkey and roast beef.

So, how can you ensure that turkey sandwich on Friday is safe?

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The CDC recommends you refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or colder as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning. Cut up the turkey or big portions of beef for refrigeration so they will cool quickly. Also, all leftovers should be reheated to at least 165°F before serving.

And if you don't think you can polish off those leftovers in a couple of days, you should freeze them. Stored in a refrigerator, leftovers can stay good for three to four days, Lisa Yakas, a senior project manager at NSF International, told USA Today. But if stored in a freezer, it's three to four months.

It’s best to label the food with an expiration date when you put it away, to help you keep track of when it’s no longer safe to eat, Yakas said.

Our picks this week

‘Tis the season, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is your No. 1 source for things to do, see and eat through all of the holidays.

DO: See this once-in-a-lifetime comet as it nears Earth

SEE: More than 100 new holiday movies out this year on TV and streaming services

EAT: Recipes to make your popcorn truly pop

For our full coverage of holiday events around metro Atlanta, check out the AJC’s Atlanta Winter Guide.

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