Exactly How Long Does Leftover Turkey Last in Your Refrigerator or Freezer?
That's happy news: Leftover turkey makes 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 Quality
Any leftover turkey you store will deteriorate in quality over time, says 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.
How Long Leftover Turkey Lasts in Fridge or Freezer
When stored in the refrigerator, turkey does not last as long. Snyder points to the USDA FoodKeeper app for best guidance: The tool notes that refrigerated, cooked turkey should be eaten within 4 days. Eat frozen turkey leftovers within 6 months for premier quality.
"Other slower changes to quality, like freezer burn, can eventually render leftovers unacceptable," Snyder says, noting that this is not an issue of safety when it comes to frozen leftovers. The turkey is safe to eat if it has freezer burn, but the reduced quality makes it unappetizing.
Storing Leftover Turkey Safely
The best way to store turkey, whether it's in the refrigerator or freezer, is by placing leftovers in air-tight containers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that your leftover turkey should be sliced or divided into small quantities and stored within 2 hours. This allows for the leftovers to cool quickly and evenly in the refrigerator and freezer.
Signs of Spoilage
Be aware of any signs that your turkey is past its prime. "Consumers can tell leftover turkey has spoiled by using their senses," says Snyder. "Refrigerated turkey leftovers that have spoiled may be slimy or have a bad smell."
If the turkey has been stored in the freezer, you will be able to tell if it is no longer safe to eat if it is discolored, tough, or dry.
Eating Stored Leftovers
It's also important to remember to consume turkey leftovers 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," says Snyder. "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."