Christmas leftovers: How to make the most of your festive feast

Planning a special festive feast this Christmas? Here’s what to do with the leftovers and how to safely handle all that food.

Christmas day is all about eating, and for most families, there’s always plenty of delicious leftovers after the festive meal is done.

But worryingly, leftovers can harbour nasty bacteria.

And, people need to take precautions to avoid multiple trips to the toilet or worse, the emergency room, according to Food Safety Information Council Lydia Buchtmann spokesperson.

“On average in Australia, there’s 4.1 million cases of food poisoning a year, 30,000 of these end up in hospital, and 86 people die,” Lydia says.

“There are also more cases during summer with the warmer weather.”

So, how do you lower the risk for you and your family on Christmas day?

Here’s what the experts recommend.

Prepare your food storage space

“Empty your fridge in advance so you can fit in as much as possible,” Lydia says.

“Remove the drinks, put them on ice because you don’t want people opening and closing the fridge all the time as that changes the temperature.”

Ideally, the fridge should be kept below 5C and store poultry, seafood and other meats in the bottom drawer where it’s coldest.

Clean hands make safe work

It seems like a no brainer but washing our hands can be the best way to avoid nasty germs like salmonella and E. coli from getting into the food.

However, a 2019 study revealed nearly 40 per cent of Australians don’t wash their hands before touching food. Eww!

Before you start prepping food, rinse your hands with soap, and rewash regularly – especially after handling raw meat, touching the garbage, or wiping down benches.

Ration your Christmas feast

It can be super tempting to lay out everything on the table for a great Christmas food photo, but if the meal lasts hours, this Insta-worthy spread could become dangerous.

“Things like dip are not good to leave sitting there, and it’s easy to forget after having a glass of wine,” Lydia says.

“So put it out in small quantities.”

As a general rule, throw out any cheese, cured meats, cooked meats or salads that have been left out in the heat for longer than two hours, she adds.

Safe tips for left over Christmas meats

If you have excess turkey, make sure you put it back in the fridge in an airtight container as soon as possible.

This should last up to three days, says Lydia.

Seafood does not keep well, but Lydia says it’s the easiest food to identify when it’s gone bad due to the taste and smell.

When it comes to ham, it’s all about good storage from the start, says Lisa Donaldson, Dietitian Australia spokesperson.

“Be sure to keep your ham in a ham bag or wrapped in a damp tea towel in the fridge and store above raw meats to avoid it becoming contaminated,” Lisa says.

Clever makeovers for leftovers

“Fritters and patties provide a great base to use up leftover meats and vegetables,” explains Lisa.

Fried rice, risotto and pizza can also be good options to make for the kids, she adds.

But remember warming food up after it’s been in the fridge is when we’re most at risk of bacteria.

Always reheat leftovers to 75°C, says Lydia.

“You can buy a food thermometer or use the auto reheat function on your microwave to make sure it’s reheated all the way through,” she says.

Written by Alex White