In times you can't ask mom, or the smell test is just too ambiguous, there are people down the road in D.C. ready to answer your questions.
“It is a live person they can speak to on the Hotline,” said Tanya Brown, a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety expert.
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline started back in 1985 and receives more than 80,000 calls a year.
The majority of calls have to do with food safety during power outages and items left in the fridge for several days.
“Is this still good? I left something out overnight because I forgot to put it in the refrigerator, am I still able to eat it?” Brown said.
And then there are questions that are a little more unusual.
“We've had people who tried to thaw their turkey out in a washing machine and then their roommate came behind them and put a load of clothes in and started to run the washing machine and they heard thump, thump, thump. So, they called us to make sure the turkey could be eaten, and of course, we told them, ‘no,’” said Brown.
There was even a question involving a tussle over the some leftovers.
“We had one lady, she didn't have room in her refrigerator and she set a container, a bowl of chili, out on her back porch and a raccoon came and started to eat some of it. And she actually wrestled the raccoon and got the chili back and called us,” said Brown.
The answer then and most often is no, it’s not safe to eat.
Food crosses into the danger zone when temperatures reach between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If food sits in those temperatures for more than two hours, throw it out.
“Bacteria loves to multiply and that's essentially room temperature,” said Brown.
While the hotline food safety experts err on the side of safety, they sometimes say yes.
“Things in the freezer remain good indefinitely,” said Brown. “So we had a lady who called us and said that she had a turkey in her freezer for about seven years and she asked us if it was still safe and we said yes, it's still safe. She cooked it up, called us back, and said it was delicious.”
THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS FOOD SAFETY TIPS
- The best food safety tip is to thoroughly wash your hands
- Remember to refrigerate leftovers within two hours
- Remove the stuffing from the turkey and store separately
- And you should toss leftovers after Tuesday
- Click here for all of your Thanksgiving food safety-related questions
CALL THE HOTLINE
If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
The Hotline is open year-round Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET (English or Spanish). Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
For answers to their most frequently asked questions, click here.