This Simple Formula Will Keep Your Family Safe At Dinner This Holiday Season

Atlanta Eats | Mom Thyme


Thanksgiving’s just a day away and, rather than tossing out another “last minute pie recipe” or recipe for “what to do with all those Thanksgiving leftovers”, I want to talk about keeping your family safe at the dinner table this holiday season. I recently read an article by the CDC that said 1 in 6 Americans will get a foodborne illness this year by consuming contaminated foods or beverages. The easiest way to put a damper on your family’s Thanksgiving? By giving someone food poisoning or getting it yourself! So, in preparation for the big day, I did a bit of online research, and found this handy “2-2-4” formula that’s super easy to remember and can help all of us keep our family’s food safe this year! 

The “2-2-4” formula:

2 hours.  All perishable foods should be eaten or packed up as leftovers within 2 HOURS of being cooked and placed on the dinner table – after 2 hours, they need to be tossed! (I’ll admit, I thought it’d be closer to 3 hours, but after cross referencing several sites, it is indeed 2!). The reason being is that after 2 hours at room temperature, food enters the “Food Danger Zone” (between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F) where bacteria begin to rapidly multiply. This is particularly dangerous for anyone with a weakened or compromised immune system, such as children, pregnant women, or, the elderly.  The general rule of thumb is to keep all hot foods hot and all cold foods cold! And, if you’re traveling for more than just a few minutes with your leftovers, it’s always best to pack them in a cooler on ice.   

2 inches. While it’s mighty tempting to just wrap up any half-eaten pans of dressing or casseroles and toss them directly in the fridge, the much better (and safer!) option is to place all leftovers into shallow containers that are about 2 inches deep. The reduced surface area will help leftovers cool faster, therefore minimizing the time they spend in the Food Danger Zone. And, while you can place hot foods directly into the refrigerator, don’t stack the containers of hot foods directly on top of each other as it will prolong the cooling time.

4 days.  All turkey, dressing, casseroles, vegetables, etc., can be kept up to 4 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen for up to 6 months.  When reheating leftovers, it’s very important that they reach a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and that all gravies, soups, and sauces be brought to a rolling boil before being served the second time. And finally, if any food looks or smells funny before the 4 days are up, simply toss it!

I hope this “2-2-4” formula will help keep your food safe this holiday season and may tomorrow be a wonderful day spent with family and friends! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Information adapted from www.web.com and www.cdc.gov. Photo courtesy of www.butterball.com.

2-2-4 pic of leftovers


  1. Anna:Great tips! Thanks for sharing.
  2. Kelly:Thank you for this valuable and timely information! I'll use it this holiday season.