Thanksgiving leftovers are a staple in American culture. For folks like Kevin, it’s the best meal he eats all year. Nothing seems more satisfying than piling bits of turkey and sides onto a sandwich to enjoy the days after the big feast.
But not long after eating, Kevin starts with diarrhea. He develops a fever, chills, and later that night winds up in the emergency room.
Kevin joined millions of other Americans with his illness. That’s because one in six folks experience food poisoning each year… That’s about 48 million Americans. And about 3,000 die each year from it. Food poisoning happens from exposure to nasty bacteria, usually from food that wasn’t cooked or stored properly.
So how safe are your leftovers?
Personally, I eat older food if it smells fine. I don’t care for all the finnicky safety rules and regulations out there, particularly when it comes to arbitrary expiration dates.
But as my staff pointed out, even if I can fend off some stray bacteria lurking in my food, following the rules may be worth it… especially as I get older. Remember, our immune systems weaken with age. And what might be safe for me might not be safe for those older than me or those with weak immune systems.
What’s more, they alerted me to a troubling finding from the scientific community…
Foodborne illness can lead to long-term issues with arthritis and chronic inflammation in the colon.
Several studies have linked outbreaks of things like Salmonella and E. coli with higher rates of reactive arthritis and even diabetes.
That means if you get a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning, you could set yourself up for an inflammatory disease later on in life.
So if you’re 65 and older or are prone to immune problems, take a bit of extra care with your food storage. In fact, we put together a few helpful tips when thinking about all those delicious leftovers…
1) Check the fridge temperature. The most important factor for leftovers (and any food), is proper storage. Keeping your fridge at the correct temperature sounds easy, but older models don’t have a built-in thermometer.
A good solution is to get a thermometer and place it in the middle of your fridge. It will take a few hours to adjust to the temperature, but you can then use it to adjust your settings accordingly. Ideally, you want your fridge to be around 35° F. 40° is the start of the danger zone, at which bacteria grow rapidly. And anything at 32° or lower will freeze most of the things you have in there.
You can use a regular thermometer and place it in a glass of water. Or you can find one like this for just a few dollars.
2) Use general guidelines. You want to make sure to eat refrigerated leftovers within three to four days. And if you’re like my researcher and cook enough food to feed a small army, consider freezing some of those leftovers.
We’ve told you before to use these guidelines loosely. But they’re a good start. And a good rule of thumb for storing leftovers – keep it shallow. Storing food in more shallow containers means the food can cool faster and more easily to the safe zone. That helps stop the growth of bacteria early on.
3) Know how the food is prepared. It’s hard to really understand food in studies because of the wide range of variables. Everything from proper storage to cooking method and more can affect the growth rate of bacteria.
But in general, wetter foods grow bacteria faster. So that rice or stuffing you might have made last week probably won’t be good today.
Similarly, after cooking, you want to make sure to store your food within two hours. Leaving it out at room temperature after that also increases your chances of bacteria growth.
4) Use the smell test. All these rules aside, there’s really just one thing you should rely on: common sense. If you’re in doubt, do what I do… Smell it.
Your sense of smell is far more powerful than you realize. Humans can detect even tiny changes in the way something smells.
Changes in the smell of food are typically caused by bacteria and mold. Easier to smell than some bacteria, mold sends out invisible enzymes into food that can make you sick. So simply scraping off the mold or cutting it off still leaves some of those enzymes behind.
And although some bacteria are normal (for instance, your day-old leftovers might smell differently than they did the night you cooked them), some can make you sick. Knowing the difference in smell can help avoid serious health problems.
And when in doubt, throw it out. If it’s outside the four-day rule and you aren’t sure of the smell, it’s better to skip it.
What We’re Reading…
- An interesting look at thriftiness and leftovers.
- Something different: A neat idea for leftover coffee grounds…
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
November 28, 2017