If you’re like most home cooks, Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers are a major part of your post-holiday diet. You’re tired and don’t want to deal with your turkey today, so how long does cooked turkey last in the fridge?
Cooked turkey can last up to 4 days in the fridge before bacteria levels rise enough to make it unsafe to consume. If you notice any signs of spoilage, even before that time, you should throw it out.
Keep reading to find out why you should refrigerate cooked turkey as soon as possible and how to do it to keep it fresh as long as possible.
Should Cooked Turkey Be Refrigerated?
Yes, your cooked turkey should be refrigerated to help you avoid you, or your guests, from becoming sick with foodborne illness.
Unfortunately, cooked turkey doesn’t last long when it sits out, so it’s important to take care of it as soon as you’re finished with it at your holiday gathering.
What causes cooked turkey to spoil?
Bacteria are the main cause of spoilage in cooked turkey. When bacteria grow on food, they can produce toxins that can make you sick.
While it’s perfectly safe to eat turkey that contains some bacteria, you don’t want to consume large amounts. That’s why it’s important to refrigerate cooked turkey within two hours of cooking.
How Long Can You Keep Cooked Turkey In The Fridge?
You can keep your cooked turkey in the fridge for between three to four days. However, if your leftover turkey is covered in gravies, sauces, or other leftovers, it may reduce its shelf life to one to two days.
It’s best to use your cooked turkey the following day or freeze any leftovers to use for later.
Is It Ok To Leave A Cooked Turkey Out Overnight?
If you let your leftover turkey sit out at room temperature for more than two hours, it is no longer safe to consume. You should throw it out even if it looks or smells fine.
Cooked turkey needs to be stored below 40°F to slow down spoilage bacteria. If your leftover turkey is in a warm environment (above 40°F), bacteria will multiply quickly.
Because of improper food handling, food poisoning cases tend to rise during and after the holiday season. So it’s important that you keep your food out of the “danger zone” and always toss food that you aren’t sure about.
Best Way To Store Cooked Turkey
To keep your turkey fresh for as long as possible in the fridge, wrap it tightly in plastic or aluminum foil. As with storing most food, airtight helps prevent airborne germs and smells from contaminating your food.
You can also store it in a covered container or Ziploc bag. And again, it’s best to store your cooked turkey separately from other leftovers unless you’re doing meal prep.
How To Store Leftover Turkey In The Fridge
- 1 Sealable Plastic Bag
- 1 Baking Sheet
- 1 Airtight Container
- 1 Bird Leftover Turkey
- If your turkey is still piping hot, let it cool enough to handle or use silicone gloves.
- Remove any stuffing from the turkey cavity. Stuffing can go bad quickly because it will stay warm in the middle for a long time, even when refrigerated, so it’s best to store it separately.
- Cut your turkey into smaller pieces. This will help it cool down faster and make it easier to store. You can use a clean baking sheet to help separate and cool the pieces. Bacteria can grow quickly on warm, moist food, so you want to make sure it’s cooled down to a safe temperature before putting it away.
- Tightly wrap your turkey in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. If you have a lot of leftovers, plastic containers or Ziploc bags work well too.
- Label your turkey with the date it was cooked. This will help you keep track of how long it has been in the fridge. It’s always a good idea to keep some masking tape and a sharpie on hand for labeling.
- Store your turkey in the coldest part of the fridge, typically at the bottom.
- Use your turkey within three to four days and toss it out if you notice any signs of spoilage.