Plus, we'll share storage tips so that you can safely enjoy this Thanksgiving favorite after the holiday.

The turkey is always the star of the Thanksgiving feast, but whether you make something like our Roast Spatchcocked Turkey or a Turkey Roulade, you're almost always bound to end up with some leftovers. That's happy news because leftover turkey will make for a pleasant addition to a sandwich or casserole after the holiday comes to an end, but only if it has been stored properly. To that end, we asked a food safety expert to share her insights on what you need to know about leftover turkey, including the best ways to store it and how long it lasts in the refrigerator or freezer.   


Leftover Turkey

Any leftover turkey you store will deteriorate in quality over time, explains Dr. Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor in the food science department at Cornell University. You can keep cooked turkey in the freezer almost indefinitely, though, as microbial growth will stop when the food is frozen but "other slower changes to quality, like freezer burn, can eventually render leftovers unacceptable," she says, adding that even then that is not an issue of safety, the turkey is still safe to eat but the quality of the meat would mean we wouldn't want to eat it.

When stored in the refrigerator, turkey does not last as long. Dr. Snyder says that there isn't a specific number of days the leftover turkey will last in either the freezer or refrigerator. She points to the USDA FoodKeeper app for best guidance—the tool notes that refrigerated, cooked turkey should be eaten within four days and frozen turkey leftovers within six months for premier quality. 

Signs of Spoiled Turkey

"Consumers can tell leftover turkey has spoiled by using their senses," Dr. Snyder says. "Refrigerated turkey leftovers that have spoiled may be slimy or have a bad smell." If the turkey leftovers have been stored in the freezer, you will be able to tell if it's all no longer good to eat if it's discolored, tough, or dry. 


The best way to store turkey, whether it's in the refrigerator or freezer, is by placing leftovers in air-tight containers. It's also important to remember to consume the food in a timely manner. "Perhaps the best thing people can do to reduce food waste is to have a plan for when and how they will consume their leftovers," Dr. Snyder adds. "If you know you probably won't eat them in a few days, store them in the freezer. Other good storage practices include writing the date leftovers were prepared on the container and using containers that seal tightly."


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