Safely Turning Leftovers Into Planovers

— Written By and last updated by Nicole Vernon
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Most people don’t realize how much food they throw away every day. From uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce. EPA estimates that about 68 percent, or about 42.8 million tons, of the wasted food we generated ended up in landfills or  combustion facilities. Planning, prepping, and storing food can help your household waste less food.

This time of year we usually have family gatherings with lots of food and lots of leftovers! There are a lot of ways to reuse those leftovers. Use that leftover turkey, roasted chicken or ham for sandwiches, soups, or you could turn them into a casserole. For example, if you bake chicken today, you can plan to use that leftover chicken by chopping it up and having it ready to make chicken enchiladas. You would only need a few other ingredients such as salsa, shredded cheese and tortillas. If you prepare twice the vegetables you’ll need for tonight’s dinner, you will have the starting point of a soup or pasta dish later in the week.

We need to keep both our planned-overs and leftovers safe. In order to do this, we need to be careful from the very start and make sure that everything is cooked to a safe internal temperature. For example, we need to cook pork, ground beef and egg dishes to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F and poultry (chicken and turkey) to 165°F in order to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Using a tip sensitive digital food thermometer is highly recommended to be sure that our food has been cooked at the right temperature.

Store your food in your refrigerator within 2 hours after it has been removed from heat. Divide your food into smaller portions in order to speed the cooling process and reduce bacteria growth. So if you have a big pot of chili, you will want to divide it into smaller containers before placing into the freezer or refrigerator. It is best to eat leftovers within 3-5 days. Do not think you can just smell or see things that are still good. Pathogens might still be there. Reheat your leftovers to 165°F. When you don’t plan, it usually ends up getting thrown out. Think of your leftovers as main ingredients in your planovers. Plan a leftover night and prepare dishes using leftovers.