To store or throw? What to do with Christmas leftovers to avoid food poisoning

Christmas is the time of year we’re most at-risk of food poisoning as the weather heats up. Here’s how to avoid it as best you can these holidays. 

Unless you have your food ratios absolutely, mathematically exact (and if you do, please tell us your secrets), chances are there will be leftovers after Christmas day. And yes, these can make absolutely cracker lunches for a few days.

But you do need to be mindful of how you serve and store your food to ensure no one in the family gets struck down by a bout of very unpleasant food poisoning. And statistically, ’tis the season.

“Over every Christmas break, we see outbreaks of Salmonella food poisoning, which are usually due to food not being prepared and stored properly,” Keira Glasgow, NSW health manager of enteric and zoonotic diseases, told Food Safety Newslast year.

Indeed, food microbiologist Julian Cox said the summer heat can impact certain food’s freshness (and affect its safety) faster than you realise.

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According to, pathogenic bacteria is what you should be wary of here, as it grows rapidly in unrefrigerated foods and can’t usually be detected by how the food looks, tastes, or smells.

Two hours, maximum, is the amount of time food should spend out of the fridge, and the warm weather cuts that time down significantly. Salmonella bacteria, for example, grow between 5 and 60 degrees Celcius.

“Sitting outside on that boiling hot day, food should be out for less time and packed away as quickly as possible, ideally to avoid contamination,” he told Sunrise.

Eat inside, ideally, he said, because your food is likely to stay safer the less exposed it is to contaminants. If you are eating outside, consider staggering serves rather than putting everything out on the table at once. This will ensure ample freshness and less waste lest it not be eaten.

Cooked meats like ham and turkey should be refrigerated within one to two hours of being eaten and can last three to four days in the fridge. If they’ve been left out longer, though, it’s probably time to ditch them.

Seafood, on the other hand, spoils quickly and things like prawns, oysters and fish are high up on the list of foods that are likely to cause food poisoning if they’re left out too long.

“Keep those prawns on ice or in some form of cooler so you’re keeping them as cold as possible and fresh for consumption,” he said.