Is your Thanksgiving table a danger zone?

We've all likely experienced that post-Thanksgiving dinner fatigue. Thanks tryptophan! Perhaps it resulted in you being a little slow to clean up after the feast. Or maybe you like to leave the buffet available for guests to pick at throughout the afternoon.

Should you care if your leftovers sit out? Here’s some advice from the experts:

The USDA has identified a “Danger Zone” between 40° – 140° F. At that temperature, they say, bacteria can grow rapidly. So the basic kitchen rule here is “Keep it cold or keep it hot.”

The USDA advises that cooked food must be refrigerated within two hours after you remove it from the heat source. (That window shrinks to just one hour if you’re celebrating Thanksgiving where the temperature tops 90°.) Same goes for cold food. It should be kept at 40° or below or refrigerated after two hours.

When you want to party all night…
So what’s a host to do when planning an open house buffet? Borrow some extra slow cookers, or look for disposable chafing dishes and fuel canisters at discount or party-goods stores. For cold food, you can nest dishes in bowls of ice or keep your serving sizes small and replenish often.

As for that giant turkey you bought, counting on leftovers, slice off the portion you plan to serve and put the rest in the fridge to chill. Portion food into small containers so it can cool down quickly. If you’re worried about hot food affecting the quality of other items in your fridge, use an ice bath to chill things first.

Fact: Reheating food that sat out too long does not make it safe to eat. Sure you’ll kill the bacteria, but you can’t kill the toxins those bacteria released.