How Long Can Your Leftovers Be Left Over?

Working out whether your fridge is a house of treats or a garbage dump

One thing your typical Aussie Christmas lunch isn’t is undercatered.

So all over the country, fridges are groaning under the weight of half-hams, turkey carcasses, and artily splashed seafood cocktail sauce dishes.

As of Tuesday night, Australia reached peak Glad Wrap.

It’s all with the best of intentions. Waste not, want not. The remainder of the year and a good slab of the next can be taken up with a rolling Christmas dinner, in microwaved or sandwiched form.

Keep that Xmas feeling rolling
Keep that Xmas feeling rolling

But I find nothing spoils a post-festive mood like food poisoning. (Or hearing Christmas carols at any time after the 25th, seriously folks, that’s a hard cut-off.)

So to avoid an attack of the late December voms, let’s go through the details of these foodstuffs one at a time:

Fruit cake/plum pudding: This is easy, these are so full of pre-preserved goods that they’ll outlast the apocalypse. Keep them in an airtight container and you might just be able to squish them back together for next Christmas’ dessert. (Though make sure you’ve scraped off the custard.)

Seafood: At the other end of the scale is the lovely prawn and salmon platter that Gran put together. That should absolutely be binned by now. In fact, if it was left out for even a couple of hours while you contemplated entrée seconds, and you went back for a sneaky prawn yesterday, you may well be feeling a little seasick today.

“Probably by now if your prawns have been out for a while, they’ll be telling you that they’re not good,” Lydia Buchtmann from the Food Safety Information Council told 3AW yesterday. At breakfast time. I hope you’re getting the hint.

Ham: Better news on the ham front, it’s cured with salt, which has drawn out water and makes it less susceptible to bacteria. Ham on the bone will normally keep a few days, or up to two weeks IF kept in a clean pillow case, tea towel or linen “ham bag”, which has been soaked in vinegar and water, and you keep the wrapped ham in the fridge.

Do clean out the bag every few days “to make sure it doesn’t get too gunky”, Lydia adds. Also make sure that if you’re telling someone these tips that they don’t hear “ham bag” as “handbag”. That will not end well.

As a ham-bag-free alternative, slice your ham up and freeze it – that way you can pull it out to use on pizzas, omelettes or sandwiches for a couple of months.

Not hygenic

Turkey and chicken: Hopefully you popped these in the fridge under cling film or in an airtight container as soon as it cooled on Christmas Day. Even so, it’s best to eat it within 48 hours. Which means today might be the limit. So now’s the time to think about making a risotto, boiling the carcass up for soup, or selling it to Maccas to make nuggs.

Also unhygienic
Definitely unhygienic

Turducken: To be honest, the jury’s still out as to whether turducken was ever fit for human consumption.

General tips:

- Bacteria thrives between the temperatures of 5 and 75 degrees Celsius – so ensure your fridge is under 5 degrees and your leftovers should last.

- For the same reason, leftovers should be reheated to 75 degrees Celsius to kill any bacteria.

- Never store your meats uncovered above stuff that might be eaten without being cooked again – the last thing you want is turkey dripping on your pav.

- Don’t reheat leftovers more than once, as this provides extra opportunities for bacteria to grow and produce toxins. Although heating above 75 degrees will kill the bacteria each time, it won’t destroy the toxins. You have been warned.

- Seriously, Jingle Bell Rock has to go to the back of the playlist for at least 11 months.