Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Storing Leftover Turkey

Store leftover turkey properly to prevent food poisoning. From the time you take the turkey out of the oven, you have 2 hours to serve it, eat it, and then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers - the turkey, stuffing and gravy. Why just two hours? Because bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply to dangerous levels on perishable food left longer than 2 hours at room temperature.

It is important to take out all of the stuffing from the turkey soon after you remove the bird from the oven. Extra stuffing can be kept hot in the oven at 200° F while you eat, or should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Cut the turkey meat off the bones.

Store leftovers properly to prevent bacterial growth. Large quantities should be divided into smaller portions and stored in several small or shallow covered containers. That’s because food in small amounts will get cold more quickly. The temperature of the refrigerator should be 40° F or slightly below.

Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Stuffing and gravy should be used within 1 or 2 days. Reheat leftover gravy to a rolling boil or 165 ° F before serving.

For longer storage, package turkey in freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil and freeze them. Proper wrapping will prevent "freezer burn". Freezer burn is white, dried-out patches on the surface of food that make it tough and tasteless. Don’t forget to date your packages and use the oldest ones first. Frozen, cooked turkey, should be used within 4-6 months, and stuffing and gravy should be used within one month. Foods frozen longer than recommended remain safe but may become dry and lose flavor.

Resources:

  • The U of A Fact Sheet 1997. Turkey Preparation-To Stuff or not to Stuff.
  • Turkey Basics: Handling Cooked Turkey. 1998 http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/pubs/ci_tcooked.htm
  • USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline
    1-800-535-4555
  • Butterball Turkey Talk Line (November & December only)
    1-800-323-4848

Material written by Mary Abgrall and Scottie Misner, April 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
Document located at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/health/foodsafety/az1072.html
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