Black Friday: even in the prime of the Digital Age, the tradition of leaving your home well before daybreak to get the best sales of the season lives on. With so much excitement and sleep deprivation, it’s easy to forget all about the exorbitant amount of leftovers from the previous day’s feast; but don’t forget for too long! You put too much blood, sweat, and tears into your perfectly delicious Thanksgiving dishes to let them fall prey to food spoilage. Let’s begin by understanding the culprits that drive good food to go bad:
Air & Oxygen
Because air is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, it is often forgotten as a food spoiler. Don’t be fooled; although oxygen is essential for life, it can also have deteriorating effects on fats, food colors, vitamins, flavors, and other food constituents. Oxygen can cause food spoilage in two ways: it can provide conditions that enhance the growth of microorganisms or damage food with the help of enzymes which cause oxidation. To avoid simple air from killing your leftovers, be sure to keep all leftovers sealed tight until you’re ready for the following days’ lunches, dinners, or snacks.
Water is one of the most common substances on earth – it is also one of the most common components in foods. Excess amounts of moisture can either result in food spoilage due to microorganisms or chemical reactions. Water helps microorganisms dissolve their food, gain energy, grow, and release their waste products. Yummy? Not for us. Moisture in our food also allows chemical reactions to occur between components. This form of spoilage typically occurs with changes in humidity and can most commonly be detected by the appearance of mold. Make sure to use up foods with high water or moisture percentages like fruits or breads soon after the holiday to prevent unwanted “science experiments” in place of leftovers.
Unless you use an ice box and prefer to cook and eat in pitch darkness, your food will be exposed to natural or artificial light at some point. The prolonged exposure of food to light can result in photodegradation – light specific food spoilage. This form of spoiling usually occurs in pigments, fats, proteins, and vitamins, resulting in discoloration, vitamin losses, and negative changes in flavor. The light sensitivity of food is dependent on the oxygen concentration (see bullet point one) and temperature, as well as the light source’s strength and type, and duration of the food’s exposure to the light. Typically, if you aren’t letting your leftovers sit in the sun or in an incubator while you’re out shopping, you should be okay, but use your best judgment.
Bacteria, molds, and yeasts are the big culprits here. The main sources of these microorganisms are in the air, soil, sewage, and animal wastes. Naturally present microorganisms on the surface of foods grown in the ground as well as those found in animal’s internal organs, skin, or feet can cause food spoilage and contaminate meat and fish, especially in ground meats. Again, by making sure to eat these leftover in a timely manner (including milk to prevent souring), you can avoid the risk of zombie food wreaking havoc on your home and in your stomach.
For every 18 degrees fahrenheit rise in temperature within the moderate temperature range where most food is handled (usually 50 to 100 degrees fahrenheit), the rate of chemical reaction is approximately doubled. As a result, excessive heat will increase the rate of natural food enzyme reactions, affecting protein and emulsion breakdowns, causing changes to color, odor, and flavor as well as vitamin loss. On the flip side, uncontrolled cold temperatures can cause foods to freeze, crack, and provide gateways for microbial contamination. Moral of the story: if it ain’t meant to be frozen, don’t freeze it!
Don’t let these food spoiling facts scare you. Knowledge is power! Instead, see if you can come up with some creative recipes to use up leftovers quickly without becoming bored of the same old meal. My family always went the pseudo-Asian route (despite the fact that we basically epitomize the U.K. in ancestry) and enjoyed turkey chop suey the days following Thanksgiving. Got some fun leftover suggestions of your own? Let us hear about them in the comments below! We did a Turkey Day playlist this year, but maybe next year we can make a DFE leftovers cook book!