Food Safety Matters: How to Safely Store and Consume Christmas Leftovers

Accidental food poisoning isn’t a great way to spend your Christmas break, so take a little bit of extra care around food safety by prepping and storing your Christmas food and leftovers properly from the start.

Wondering how long you can eat ham after Christmas Day? Or if that half-full container of cream is going to make it to the weekend? Here’s your quick and easy go-to guide to putting your best foot forward when it comes to food safety over the festive period.

It’s no secret that part of the joy of Christmas Day for adults is devouring your weight in decadent food. From glazed ham to fruit-laden pavlova and all the sweets and dinner rolls in between. Such abundance means you’re guaranteed to be eating yummy leftovers for a day or two afterwards. Add to this being in the Australian summer and never before has food safety been more important – it can make or break your holiday mood!

So how long is too long to be eating the leftover ham? Read on below to find out!

Leftovers are great, but they DO have a time limit

Generally speaking, Christmas Day leftovers shouldn’t be carried through to the new year. Nup, no way – with the sneaky exception of cheese. With that said, take your Christmas menu planning beyond Christmas lunch, and plan meals for Boxing Day by using up your leftovers.

One thing you do need to make sure of is that your leftovers are safe to eat, so be sure to treat them right with good from the beginning. Take a look at the food safety tips below plus how long you can keep Christmas food leftovers!

Boxing day turkey sandwiches are a MUST. via GIPHY

Food safety matters!

Overloading the fridge with extra food and drinks is a recipe for disaster. Filling every spare space in the fridge makes it hard for cool air to circulate and if the door is opened frequently, the fridge has to work overtime to keep the temperature down.

mum centralTIP: keep an Esky or laundry tub full of ice to keep drinks cool and out of the way (and extra people out of the kitchen)

christmas food safety
Don’t leave storing leftovers until later, get onto it straight away! Source: Bigstock

Tips to serve and store Christmas food

1. BE CLEAN! A kitchen during Christmas can be a magnet for a mess as ALL the food-related tasks are juggled. Keep a stack of chopping boards, clean tea towels, paper towel, kitchen cloths and bench spray handy in plain view so that people can clean spaces up easily between jobs, minimising the risk of cross-contamination.

2. STORING LEFTOVERS: Food should be allowed to cool to the point where it’s no longer steaming before placing it in the refrigerator. But don’t leave it out for longer than two hours at room temperature, or if you’re outside, one hour. Any longer than that and food safety becomes compromised, so should be destined for the compost bin.

3. TEMPERATURE CONTROL: Hot foods must be kept warm and cold foods must be kept cold. Double-wrap hot foods in foil and keep them in a warm oven, BBQ or slow cooker to maintain their temperature. Cold foods can be kept in the fridge until required and served on ice to keep them cold. Check out the TikTok below for a great tip on keeping foods colder for longer.

@mumcentral 🧊KEEP FOODS FRESH AND COLD!🧊 Save this hack for all your summertime entertaining catering, playground parties and picnics to help keep your food fresh and cold for longer!! GENIUS! #kitchenhacks #foodhacks #icetray #alfrescodining #mumlife ♬ Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice

How long can I keep Christmas food leftovers?

Leftovers don’t last forever. For optimum food safety, always seal leftover food in clean, airtight containers. Except for a leg of ham that is, which should be stored in a damp cotton ham bag or pillowcase to prevent it from drying out. As for how long you can keep enjoying it before it reaches its expiry, refer to the guide below:

  • CHICKEN, TURKEY AND HAM: Eat or freeze your leftover chicken, turkey and ham within three to four days. Don’t whack the whole leg or bird in the freezer. Portion it into slices or shred and bag the ham to use in sandwiches, quiches and pizzas later on.
food safety
Don’t be a ham about ham. What you can’t eat within a few days should be frozen! Source: Supplied
  • VEGETABLES: Green vegetables such as beans, broccoli and spinach won’t last quite as long as starchy vegetables like carrots and potatoes but the rules are the same. Cooked vegetable dishes should be eaten within three days, especially foods containing fresh dairy products like potato-bake.
  • SEAFOOD: Seafood leftovers can be eaten for up to two days in an air-tight container in the fridge but will always taste their best on Christmas day. Use up prawns on pizza or in spaghetti and smoked salmon can make for a fabulous Boxing Day brekkie with poached eggs.
  • MILK AND CREAM: Keep cream at the back of the fridge where it’s coldest. Milk and cream are good up until the expiry date on the container, or seven to 10 days after opening – whichever date comes first. The sniff test does actually work – you’ll know if it has started to turn sour! Cream-topped desserts such as pavlova should be eaten within three days.
food safety
Pavlova is good for a few days, but the sooner it’s eaten, the better for food safety. Source: Supplied
  • CUSTARD: Sweet custard contains milk and eggs so should be used up within two to three days.
  • CHEESE: Cheese has a surprisingly good shelf life once opened, but ONLY if it’s kept in the fridge. Cut off what you need from the block and put the rest back in the fridge. That said, don’t put once-cold, now room-temperature cheese platter leftovers back in the fridge, those are destined for the bin!
    • Soft cheese: around seven days in the fridge once opened.
    • Feta cheese: five to seven days once opened, or up to a month if stored in brine.
    • Hard cheese: up to four weeks.
  • SALAD DRESSINGS: Shop-bought salad dressings are generally good to eat for a month after opening (check the label if it says otherwise). However, if you’re making salad dressings or condiments from scratch, use them up within three to four days to be on the safe side.

And all the food safety tips and tricks aside, if you’re not sure if it’s safe to eat or not… if in doubt, chuck it out!

mayonnaise recipe
Homemade salad dressings should be eaten within a few days. Source: Bigstock

There you have it, folks. With good planning and excellent food safety, you should get through all the Christmas food leftovers before the week is over, clearing the fridge in time to hit the supermarket for the New Year.

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Avatar of Lexi Klaebe

South Australian mum and self proclaimed foodie, Lexi can most days be found in the kitchen, apron tied firm and armed with a whisk or wooden spoon!

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