Food-safety specialist Gina Nicholson gives a few tips to get more life out of meals. **Bonus recipe** See Nicholson's recipe for chicken enchiladas.
Leftovers are popular these days as Americans stretch their food dollars by preparing more meals at home. As a working mom, I cook most of my meals on Sundays and serve them during the week.
I might roast a whole chicken and make chicken and dumplings, enchiladas or shepherds pie. I can brown hamburger and use it in sloppy joes, taco salad, or pasta dishes.
Divide and save
One of the keys to safe, delicious leftovers and pre-prepared meals is to divide them into smaller portions and store in shallow containers no more than 2 inches deep. If food is hot, let it cool for 30 minutes and cover it before refrigerating or freezing.
With my family's busy schedules, I often divide leftovers into single portions so everyone has his or her own TV dinner. I can safely store leftovers and other dishes in the refrigerator three to four days or for months in the freezer.
Safety tip: Use an appliance thermometer to confirm your refrigerator is 40 degrees or cooler and your freezer is zero degrees or colder.
For safety's sake, reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a boil.
The microwave is a quick and easy way to heat leftovers. For best results, cover the dish and stir it frequently. Rotate food to help it cook evenly. If you do not have a turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice to eliminate cold spots where bacteria can survive.
Remember, you cannot see, taste or smell foodborne pathogens, which is why it is important to handle and prepare food safely. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling food. Separate food and wash counter tops and cutting boards to avoid cross contamination.
Bigger may be better
Buying food in bulk can save you money. If you buy large packages of raw meat such as pork, beef or poultry, you can safely refrigerate it one to two days. You should then cook or freeze the product.
Gina Nicholson is a food-safety manager for the Columbus Division of the Kroger Co.