Food & Drink

How long is it safe to keep your Christmas food in the fridge for?

Could you be keeping your Crimbo limbo snacks for a little too long? And could they be harming your health?

Many of us may not know how long it is safe to keep leftovers for
Christmas turkey leftovers Many of us may not know how long it is safe to keep leftovers for (Alamy Stock Photo)

In that glorious – if somewhat confusing – period between Christmas and New Year, life has one true constant: leftovers. Be it cheese and chocolate, or your luscious Christmas dinner in a doggy bag, there is a lot of reheating and re-eating to be done.

But, could your pigs in blankets sarnie be making you sick? Should you really be making soup from a week-old turkey carcass?

How long can you keep Christmas food for?

It’s all about your fridge

According to government food safety advice, cooked fish and meat can be kept in the fridge for three to four days, while dairy will depend more on what it is. Cheese, for example, can be kept longer than cream and custard.

While there are general guidelines for most food groups, such as dairy, meat and seafood, “how long you can keep food in the fridge after Christmas will depend on several factors, including the temperature of your fridge, the freshness of your food before it is cooked and how it is stored,” explains GP Dr Babak Ashrafi at Asda Online Doctor.

“It is generally safe to keep food for a couple of days after Christmas, as long as it is refrigerated and stored properly. But use your best judgement before eating any leftovers, and be sure to throw away any food that doesn’t look or smell safe to eat.”

If your lush leftovers sandwich doesn’t smell quite right, don’t risk it
leftovers sandwich If your lush leftovers sandwich doesn’t smell quite right, don’t risk it (Alamy Stock Photo)

The coldest part of the fridge should be under 5°C, according to the Food Standards Agency.

The risks

Taking a chance and eating meat that has been kept in a sub-standard fridge or has been held onto for too long could make you very unwell.

“Leaving meat at room temperature, or not refrigerating it at low enough temperatures, can encourage bacteria to grow and lead to foodborne illnesses,” says Ashrafi.

“Certain bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, thrive on meat and can make you very sick. Food contaminated with these bacteria can lead to vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and, in very serious cases, require medical treatment.”

Don’t leave food out on the side – even for a buffet

Your Christmas food may spend a worrying number of cumulative hours going in and out of the fridge for picky lunches and buffets in the days following Christmas.

“The Food Standards Agency recommends not letting your food sit between 8°C and 63°C, as this is where bacteria thrive. Keeping your food out of the “danger zone” will prevent the bacteria in your food from multiplying and reduce your risk of contracting a foodborne illness,” Ashrafi explains.

Once leftovers have been turned into something else, remember what their sell by dates were
leftover frittata Once leftovers have been turned into something else, remember what their sell by dates were (Alamy Stock Photo)

As well as the temperature of your food, “it’s important to pay attention to use-by and sell-by dates, and look out for signs of spoilage. If your food smells off or doesn’t look right, err on the side of caution and throw it away – you don’t want to ruin your Christmas holiday with a bout of food poisoning.”

If you are worried about the date on something whose wrapper you threw away, or if something doesn’t smell quite right, it is worth avoiding the dangerous bacteria that could be rife on any of your Christmas leftovers.