Will you roast an 18 pound turkey? Maybe you’ll roast two smaller ones so you can have four drumsticks. One thin for sure; most of us will have a whole lot of leftover turkey.
What do you do with that leftover bird? Is it alright to eat it after it’s been sitting out from the time it came out of the oven, through dinner, dessert, and two loads run through the dishwasher?
Once it’s in the fridge, how long can it stay there?
Once Your Bird Is Cooked, Does It Matter How Long You Leave It Out?
Yes, yes, yes! It definitely matters – and the clock starts ticking as soon as the bird comes out of the oven, fryer, or off the grill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control the number of reported cases of food borne illness (food poisoning) increases during the holiday season. Leaving cooked food at room temperature is an invitation for bacteria that can cause food poisoning to multiply and reheating leftovers doesn’t always destroy their toxins or spores.
You shouldn’t leave turkey or any perishable food out for more than two hours. To save turkey leftovers, remove the stuffing from the cavity, cut the turkey off the bone, and refrigerate or freeze all leftovers.
The Basic Rules For Leftovers
According to the USDA the mantra is:
2 Hours–2 Inches–4 Days
- 2 Hours from oven to refrigerator: Refrigerate or freeze your food within 2 hours of cooking (from when you first take the food off the heat or out of the oven). Throw your leftovers away if they are out longer than that. Think about your buffet table or your holiday dinner table. How long did the bird, stuffing, and accompaniments sit out while everyone ate and then went back for seconds?
- 2 Inches thick to cool it quick: Store your food at a shallow depth–about 2 inches–to speed chilling. Are you guilty of piling the food high in storage containers or in a big mound covered with tin foil?
- 4 Days in the refrigerator–otherwise freeze it: Use your leftovers that are stored in the fridge within 4 days. The exceptions are stuffing and gravy. Both should be used within 2 days. Reheat solid leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and bring liquid leftovers to a rolling boil. Toss what you don’t finish.
How Long Can Leftover Turkey Stay In The Freezer?
Frozen leftover turkey, stuffing, and gravy should be used within one month.
To successfully freeze leftovers:
- package them properly using freezer wrap or freezer containers. Use heavy-duty aluminum foil, freezer paper, or freezer bags for best results and don’t leave any air space.
- Squeeze the excess air from the freezer bags and fill rigid freezer containers to the top with dry food. Without proper packaging, circulating air in the freezer can create freezer burn – those white dried-out patches on the surface of food that make it tough and tasteless.
- Leave a one-inch headspace in containers with liquid and half an inch in containers filled with semi-solids.