We roasted a fresh turkey un-stuffed on Thanksgiving and the left-over pieces have been stored in the refrigerator in it's own container. How long is too long to safely consume the left-over turkey? Thank you.--Betty
In our house, most of the leftover turkey is consumed for late night snacks or lunch the next day as Turkey Buns. In fact, I have been known to say the only reason to roast a turkey for supper is to have leftovers for turkey buns. Still, there is always some leftover for turkey with gravy, tetrazzini or some other dish.
The general rule for meat is that it will safely keep for about three days, provided that:
- the meat was thoroughly cooked;
- it was not left in the "danger zone" temperatures of between 140°F (60°C) and 40°F (4°C) for more than two hours; and
- the refrigerator is kept below 40°F (4°C).
If any of the above is not done, then the storage time will be reduced, and the risk of food-borne illness greatly increased.
For turkey and chicken, the meat must be cooked to at least 165°F (74°C) throughout, although you likely want to cook the dark meat to closer to 180°F (82°C) for the best results. If the turkey had been stuffed, then the stuffing should be completely removed from the bird and refrigerated separately. Because of the extra moisture in stuffing, it will only keep for one or at most two days. See the posting "Dis-dressed Turkey" for more about stuffing safety.
As much as possible, the meat should be stored in large pieces. Most food safety experts recommend taking all of the meat off of the bones before refrigerating. The carcass can be discarded or used to make stock or soup.
Reheat the leftover turkey to at least 165°F (74°C), preferably in gravy, or some other sauce, before serving.
To learn more about how long food can be left out before refrigeration and the danger zone, read How Long Can Cooked Food Be Left Out.