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Q: How long can we enjoy our leftover turkey?


You aren’t alone with having too many leftovers.  Every year Americans toss millions of pounds of food during the holidays. Just remember, safety first. And when in doubt, throw it out.

For safe leftovers, refrigerate your turkey within two hours of cooking to prevent bacteria from growing. 

  • The 2 hours policy is a good rule of thumb for any food, anytime. If temperatures outside rise above 90°F, refrigerate foods after 1 hour!
  • Refrigerating leftovers will avoid foods landing in the temperature “danger zone.” This is the temperature range between 40° and 140°F when bacteria can grow most rapidly.
  • Consuming food that has not been held at safe temperatures places individuals at risk for foodborne illness.

It is recommended that leftover turkey meat be carved off the bones before refrigerating. 

  • Whether we are talking turkey, stuffing or mashed potatoes, dividing large quantities of food into smaller portions helps food cool quickly in the refrigerator.
  • You do not need to wait for foods to cool prior to placing in refrigerator.
  • If you want leftovers to be consumed, store white meat, dark meat and bones in different containers. That way, people will find what they are looking for easily and quickly.
  • For food safety and a more organized refrigerator, transfer leftovers from large serving platters into clean containers.

Turkey should be consumed within 3 or 4 days after being served.

  • If you know you are not going to consume the turkey prior to that and you do not want to toss, wrap it up tightly and freeze.
  • While food can last indefinitely in the freezer, for optimal quality, use within six months.

For more information about food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline. For fun Thanksgiving leftover ideas, check out Spotlight on Taste.

Have another Nutrition question? Ask our Dietitian.

Jill Kwasny

Registered Dietitian