By: Dena Gershkovich, Lubicom Marketing Staff
You’ve made it through Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and now it’s time to focus on Sukkot. Cooking in advance is great for staying organized, but there are also important food safety guidelines to follow when preparing food ahead of time. As a dietetics professional, food safety is something that is very important to me, and it should be to you, too, as foodborne illnesses can be serious, especially for the immunocompromised. Follow these tips to put yourself and your family in the best position to have a happy, healthy and safe holiday.
How Long Can Food Last?
This depends on many factors, including but not limited to the type of food in question, how fresh the food was at the time of purchase, the temperature of your fridge and others. Below are some general recommendations, but keep in mind that this all varies based on the circumstance.
Let’s Talk Temperatures
According to foodsafety.gov, your fridge should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. Your freezer should be 0 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.
Fruits and Vegetables
The amount of time that certain fruits and vegetables can last in the refrigerator varies tremendously. For example, spinach generally lasts three to five days in the fridge, while onions can last one to two months. Check out this link for guidance specific to the produce you plan to purchase.
The food safety guidelines are different for raw meats than for fresh meats. The following information is from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Meat – Raw hamburger, ground and stew meats can generally last in the fridge for only one to two days. Fresh meat, such as steaks, chops and roasts, should only be refrigerated for three to five days. Cooked meat and meat dishes can last a little longer in the fridge – three to four days. Freeze your meat if you plan to use it after these specified time frames.
- Poultry – Fresh poultry, such as chicken and turkey, should only be refrigerated for one to two days before being used. Leftover cooked poultry generally lasts in the fridge for three to four days. If you are planning on using your poultry after this time frame, freezing is recommended.
- Fish – Fresh fish should be used within two days of being purchased if you’re storing it in the fridge. Cooked fish can last for up to four days in the fridge. Freezing is recommended if you want to save your fish for a later date.
Grains and Desserts
In my experience, grains taste the freshest within three to four days of preparation. If you plan on using them beyond this time frame, I suggest freezing and defrosting before use.
Fruit-based desserts should always be refrigerated or frozen!
Repurposing Food From The First Days For The Last Days
As you can see from the above recommendations, some foods may be able to last in the fridge from the first days of chag to the beginning of the second days, but it’s best to freeze whatever you can instead of refrigerating. Some produce may last, but fully prepared/assembled dishes should either be made fresh or defrosted.
If you plan to enjoy some of the food you prepared for the first days over the second days, I recommend setting some aside to freeze at the time of preparation rather than storing it in the fridge for the week.
When serving food, keep in mind that food should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours. In the “danger zone” (between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit), bacteria can multiply rapidly to dangerous levels and cause foodborne illness. If you are having a long Sukkot meal with your family, be sure not to lose track of how long your food has been sitting out for!
The two-hour rule is also applicable for cooking. When cooking for Sukkot, make sure to refrigerate your food if it’s going to be more than two hours before you eat it. I know that it can be tempting to leave your food out to “cool” for over two hours, but for the safety of yourself and your family, please don’t! As soon as your food cools a bit, be sure to stick it in the fridge. Another option is to store your food in a warming drawer or oven, as long as it’s above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
I’m all about reducing food waste, and repurposing food is a great way to do so. Here are some ideas for how you can repurpose your leftovers instead of throwing them away. Note that food that is spoiled should NOT be repurposed under any circumstance! See the above sections for guidance on how long food generally lasts.
– Sauté leftover rice with vegetables, onions and/or beans, and make into burritos. Serve with guacamole and/or salsa.
– You can also make leftover rice into fried rice by frying an egg into the rice. Serve with tofu or chicken and gravy.
- Grain Salads:
– You can make a grain-based salad without adding leafy greens. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, add dried cranberries, nuts and roasted sweet potatoes to your prepared grain. If you prefer savory, add avocado, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh parsley to your grain.
– Alternatively, you can make a leafy salad and add a cup or so of your cooked grain of choice to make the salad more filling and/or exciting. If you’re having any vegetarians, they will thank you for a filling plant-based dish! I especially enjoy tricolor quinoa and farro in salads, but brown rice can taste great too.
Poultry and Meat:
– Repurpose leftover chicken or turkey into a chicken pot pie. Add some peas and carrots to the chicken, and simmer in vegetable broth with other spices. Add to a prepared pie dough crust, bake, and you’re good to go!
– Leftover chicken or turkey can also be shredded and added to salads or served over rice with sauce or gravy.
- Meat – Make a meat or chicken pizza with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables. You can even make mini meat pizzas.
- Salads – Have some steamed or roasted vegetables that have been hanging out in your fridge for awhile? No problem! Dump them into a bowl with some greens, add some dressing, and you have a delicious clean-out-the-fridge salad.
- Omelets/Frittatas/Quiches – Adding cooked vegetables to your eggs makes them so much more tasty and nutritious! Sweet potatoes and spinach taste especially good with eggs. Broccoli also tastes great!
- Prepare a Grain – Prepare some fresh couscous, quinoa, farro, rice or pasta, and mix in your leftover vegetables. Enjoy with your favorite protein.
I hope this guide will help make your Sukkot more safe and more seamless. Chag sameach!
-Dena Gershkovich is a dietetic intern with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. She holds a B.S. in Dietetics and a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Maryland. Check out Dena’s blog, The Artsy Palate, Instagram account (@theartsypalate), and Facebook page (The Artsy Palate) to see more of her work.