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How long can you safely keep Thanksgiving leftovers?

KING5 tested Thanksgiving leftovers at a local lab to find out how many days after the meal they officially go bad.

Have you ever wondered how long it's really safe to eat Thanksgiving leftover?

The USDA recommends keeping leftovers no more than three to four days in a fridge, but KING5 decided to get the dirty details about leftovers from a top food safety lab in Bothell, IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group.

KING5 called on restaurateur Ethan Stowell for help cooking a Thanksgiving meal for eight to ten people.

The menu included: a roasted turkey with oysters and bacon stuffing, chanterelle mushrooms and kale, orange cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, roasted baby Yukon potatoes with rosemary and parsley, Brussels sprouts with bacon and sweet potatoes and yams with a bourbon glaze.

Once Stowell and KING5 finished cooking the meal, KING5 individually packaged each item into storage containers and sent the containers to IEH Laboratories and Consulting where techs performed two tests.

Techs tested one set of leftovers sitting out at room temperature at three, six and nine hours to check for unsafe levels bacteria.

"Oh, we got some interesting results," said food safety expert Sam Myoda. "The one that really jumps out is the mashed potatoes. At 9 hours, it had over 16 million bacteria in a single serving of mashed potatoes."

Myoda explained the type and amount of bacteria present, Bacillus Cereus and Staphylococcus. was enough to potentially cause illness and symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Surprisingly even after sitting at room temperature for 9 hours, outside the potato family, the bacteria stayed pretty low and level with the rest of the food, but Myoda would not advise leaving it out that long.

While you could eat, Myoda wouldn't recommend it.

"After about four or five hours things started going up," Myoda said. "So kind of, the take home here is, when you are done with your meal, get it in the refrigerator as soon as you can," Myoda said.

In other words, Myoda recommends against leaving leftovers out for grazing.

The second set of leftovers were immediately refrigerated and tested at 3, 6, 9 and 12 days.

"So 3-4 days, you know, everything seems fine, but then it really starts to go," Myoda said.

Once again, even at three days, the mashed potatoes had a significantly higher bacterial count than the other leftovers, Myoda said.

Equally shocking, Myoda said the Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce were still potentially edible at 12 days.

"I don't know how it will taste, but from a microbial standpoint, I could sign off on it," Myoda said, admitting he wouldn't want to taste the food himself.

"There are a lot of things that taste awful but don't make you sick," Myoda said.

Myoda said roughly 48,000,000 people get sick from food borne illnesses in the US each year and about 3,000 die.

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