When you’re cooking a large meal like Thanksgiving dinner, it’s important to prepare elements ahead of time so you’re not stuck in the kitchen all day while missing out on the company of friends and family. Thanksgiving pies can definitely be prepared ahead of time, but how far in advance? And should they sit out at room temperature, or be stored in the refrigerator or the freezer?
We spoke to food safety experts and a professional baker about the best storage practices to help keep you safe from foodborne illnesses and preserve the quality of your home-baked pies. Here’s what you should know.
Pie crusts and certain types of pie can be frozen.
“Fruit pies can be stored safely for 3-4 days in a refrigerator but up to 1-2 months (after baking) in a freezer,” Tamika Sims, director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation, told HuffPost.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach notes that while pumpkin and pecan pies can be frozen for up to two months, their fillings may separate and their crusts can get soggy.
But don’t even think about freezing a custard pie. “Pies that have custard or chiffon should not be frozen, but can be stored for 3-4 days in a fridge,” Sims said.
“The thing with pie is it’s really best when it’s fresh, however as a chef I always recommend [making] your dessert [before the rest of the meal],” Tracy Wilk, lead chef and recipe editor for the recreational program at the Institute of Culinary Education, told HuffPost. As making pie dough is the most time-intensive step of the pie-making process, she recommends making it in advance and putting it in the freezer (or even better, rolling the dough out and placing it in a freezer-safe pie plate) ahead of time. That way, you can make your pie filling the day of Thanksgiving, drop it into the dough (from frozen or defrosted overnight in the refrigerator) and bake it fresh on Thanksgiving Day.
For those freezing dough and entire pies in advance, Wilk recommends working no more than 10 days in advance — unless you have a really great freezer. “It will be fine in the freezer [for longer], but if you have a normal home fridge it’s going to get freezer burn,” Wilk said.
Baking your pie within a day of Thanksgiving? Here’s when you can leave it out at room temperature.
When it comes to food safety best practices for Thanksgiving pies, the guidelines for fruit-filled pies are the most lenient as “fruit pies generally contain enough sugar to stop the growth of bacteria and may safely be kept at room temperature,” a Food and Drug Administration spokesperson told HuffPost. “Pies that should be refrigerated should not be left out more than two hours or one hour in air temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.”
This means that unless you’re planning on eating them immediately after baking and cooling, pies with fillings that contain perishable ingredients like eggs and dairy such as pumpkin or pecan need to go in the refrigerator. “When these baked products are left at room temperature, conditions are ideal for bacterial multiplication,” Sims said. “It’s not necessary to refrigerate most other baked goods, unless they have a perishable filling or frosting.”
To avoid a soggy crust, Wilk recommends making apple pie (as well as other pies filled with wet fruit) no more than 24 hours in advance. “The longer it sits, the more likely your pie crust is going to get soggy,” Wilk said. After it’s cooled, the pie can be wrapped and left on the counter overnight.
Wrap any leftovers and consume within a few days.
The all-important “chill” step in regard to safe food handling comes into play once again when dealing with Thanksgiving leftovers. “Remember to store your perishable food under 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and different types of leftovers can be kept safely for different amounts of time,” said Sims, who recommends keeping a cold food storage chart on your fridge, so you know when to throw out your leftovers.
Fruit, pumpkin, pecan, custard and chiffon pies can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, according to the chart and FDA guidelines. But many pies ― especially fruit ― are best eaten within just a couple of days. “Apple, to me, after two days it’s just not gonna taste good,” Wilk said.
“You can’t tell if a food is safe just by how it looks or smells,” Sims added. “The ‘sniff test’ does not apply to week-old pies.”