The turkey is always the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal, but whether you prepare our Roast Spatchcocked Turkey or a Turkey Roulade, you’ll almost always have leftovers. That’s good news because leftover turkey may be a tasty addition to a sandwich or casserole once the holidays are gone, but only if it’s been properly stored. To that end, we enlisted the help of a food safety expert to explain everything you need to know about leftover turkey, including the safest ways to store it and how long it will survive in the fridge or freezer.
What is Turkey?
Turkey meat, also referred to as simply turkey is the meat of both domesticated and wild turkeys. It’s a popular chicken dish, especially in North America, where it’s served on important cultural holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and in regular cooking. Turkey is a popular meat in the United States.
Americans consumed Turkey in 2019 for 5.3 billion pounds or 16.1 pounds per person. It’s also more than double the food consumed by Americans 50 years ago. Since then, scientists have learned a lot about the many health benefits that turkey can give. Many people use turkey as a beef alternative since it is high in nutrients and generally healthier than red meat.
What is Considered as Leftover Turkey?
Dr. Abigail Snyder, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s food science department, says that any leftover turkey will degrade in quality over time. Cooked turkey can be kept in the freezer almost indefinitely because microbial growth stops when the food is frozen, but “other slower changes in quality, such as freezer burn, can eventually render leftovers unacceptable,” she says, adding that this isn’t a safety issue because the turkey is still safe to eat. Still, the quality of the meat would make us not want to eat it.
Turkey does not last as long when kept in the refrigerator. According to Dr. Snyder, no set number of days leftover turkey can be stored in the freezer or refrigerator. For the greatest quality, she recommends using the USDA FoodKeeper app, which states that refrigerated, cooked turkey should be consumed within four days and frozen turkey leftovers should be consumed within six months.
What are the Signs of a Spoilt Turkey?
“By using their senses, consumers can identify if the leftover turkey has been ruined,” Dr. Snyder adds. “Slimy or foul-smelling turkey leftovers from the refrigerator may have spoiled.” Whether you’ve kept the turkey leftovers in the freezer, you’ll be able to determine if they’re no longer edible if they’re discolored, rough, or dry.
3 Ways to Determine Whether Raw Turkey has Gone Bad
When fresh, raw turkey should have a mild, subtle odor similar to raw chicken. However, if you notice a strong odor from your raw turkey, it may have begun to turn.
The strong odor emanating from your rotting raw turkey may resemble sulfur burps or rotten eggs in some situations. This is unsurprising given the high protein content of turkey meat.
Raw turkey meat that has been spoiled may have a gamey odor. Expect a peculiar and unpleasant stench if your raw turkey is rotting.
The skin of a fresh raw turkey is pale white, off-white, light pink, or cream in hue. However, the color of raw turkey’s skin will change as it loses its freshness.
When the color of the turkey’s skin darkens, it’s time to throw it out. For example, if the turkey’s pale white or light pink skin has become grey, it should be discarded.
Something may be wrong if the color of the turkey skin is duller than when you bought it, aside from an outright change in color.
If you discover that the skin of your raw turkey meat has gotten slimy, throw it out right away. In raw turkey, sliminess is a sure symptom of rot.
If the turkey has grown slimy, don’t try to taste it or eat it. The presence of slime on a piece of turkey indicates that bacterial activity has increased. As a result, if you prepare this type of turkey flesh, you may become sick with Salmonella.
Ensure that everything that comes into contact with the slimy turkey is washed.
How to Store Turkey?
Placing leftover turkey in airtight containers, whether in the refrigerator or freezer, is the best storage method. It’s also crucial to remember to eat the food as soon as possible. Dr. Snyder says, “Perhaps the best thing people can do to prevent food waste is to have a plan for when and how they will consume their leftovers.” “Store them in the freezer if you know you won’t eat them in a few days. Writing the date leftovers were cooked on the container and using tightly closed containers are two other smart storage methods.”
How Long can Cooked Turkey be Kept in the Fridge?
Cold, cooked turkey flesh can last up to four days in the refrigerator but use your best judgment.
If you plan on reheating your turkey, be particularly cautious — never reheat leftovers more than once since this might create the ideal environment for bacteria to flourish and release toxins.
Although cooking the meat to temperatures above 75°C for a second or third time will kill the bacteria, it will not eliminate the toxins.
If you’re going to eat the leftovers cold, take what you need from the fridge, as leaving the turkey at room temperature for long periods will encourage bacteria growth.
How Long can Cooked Turkey be Kept in the Freezer?
Although the Food Standards Agency suggests using turkey within 3-6 months, there is no time limit on how long you can freeze it. It will still be safe to consume after this period, but the quality may have deteriorated.
If you defrosted the turkey and then cooked it, you can store the cooked leftovers again; however, the NHS recommends that raw meat that has been defrosted never be refrozen.
Cooked turkey leftovers should be frozen as soon as possible after consumption, as the fresher, the flesh is when it is placed in the freezer, the fresher it will be when it is taken out.
But first, the turkey must be fully chilled. Chilling meats to 21°C within two hours of cooking is critical before refrigerating them to avoid bacteria growth.
How to Reheat Cooked Turkey Safely?
You can do many things with the leftover turkey to prevent wasting it. It can be cut and served cold on sandwiches the first day or two after cooking, and you’ll probably want to reheat it before eating it later.
When reheating the turkey, ensure it’s heated all the way through before eating. If you use it to make a curry or other hot food, keep in mind that reheated curry should not be warmed again, so only make what you need and don’t be tempted to save the leftovers – only reheat the meat once.
How Long can I Eat Leftover Turkey Without Becoming Sick?
Refrigerated turkey leftovers are generally acceptable to eat three to four days after cooking. Still, it all relies on your circumstances, especially how properly the turkey was cooked in the first instance and how promptly the leftovers were refrigerated. Freezing leftovers allows them to last practically indefinitely. However, just because the meat is technically acceptable does not rule out the possibility of bacterial contamination or food poisoning. It’s still critical to heat leftovers thoroughly and pays attention to their color, texture, and flavor.
What are the Reheating Instructions of Turkey?
Any time within the four-day timeframe, it is generally considered safe to consume cold turnkey straight from the refrigerator. Reheating a turkey that has been refrigerated or frozen generally necessitates more care. Meat chunks can be reheated in the microwave, on the stove, or in the oven, but they must achieve an internal temperature of 165°F (approximately 74°C) before being eaten. When poultry meat warms up, it offers an excellent environment for germs to thrive. One of the greatest ways to avoid this and keep your dinner safe is to heat it to high enough temperatures.
If you have “leftover” leftovers, use the same basic storage procedures as before, but remember that the four-day countdown began when the meat was first cooked, not when it was reheated. Most food safety experts advise that leftover turkey be reheated no more than twice.
How to Select the Best Turkey?
A reputable supermarket, a local butcher, a farmers’ market or shop, or an internet mail-order company are good places to get a turkey. Out of the five sources, the latter four are most likely to provide the most information about the turkey, such as where it came from and how it was produced. This traceability assures that the turkey was treated humanely while alive; the higher the level of welfare, the better the meat quality.
The most expensive turkey is organic, which means it was subjected to the strictest agricultural rules throughout its life, allowing it to roam outside during the day and giving it a primarily organic diet. Because they are allowed to mature slowly, their flesh is substantial and tasty; yet, because they have had a lot of exercise throughout their lives, they may be less plump than indoor-reared birds. Look for the Soil Association sticker if you wish to buy organic.
Free-range turkeys should have been exposed to the outdoors and are less expensive than organic turkeys. Producers who meet the R.S.P.C.A.’s guidelines can use the Freedom Food label.
Turkeys raised in batteries (or’ factories’) are the most popular. The low price is a dead giveaway, even if they aren’t usually labeled as such. Although these turkeys are less expensive, the conditions in which they are raised are deplorable. They are crammed in at high densities, with little mobility and no access to sunshine, resulting in visibly degraded flesh.
How do you Keep your Turkey Juicy?
If the turkey meat is dry when it comes out of the oven, it won’t keep for long once chilled. However, you can do a few things ahead of time to ensure a succulent roast.
Brining your Turkey in the Oven
Simply dusting raw turkey with salt up to two days before roasting will produce a much juicier roast. A whole bird can be seasoned up to a day ahead of time, a crown up to 24 hours, and a boneless turkey breast up to 24 hours.
Don’t Cook the Turkey too Long.
Overcooking is the most common cause of dry turkey meat, and a digital frying probe is the best way to ensure that your turkey does not overcook. The turkey is done when the thickest section of the thigh or the thickest part of the breast reaches 75°F or 65°F, and the turkey is done.
When you rest your turkey after roasting, it relaxes and absorbs its fluids. Any turkey roast, from the whole bird to a boneless breast joint, should be fully rested before chopping. Place the turkey in the kitchen on a board or dish and leave it there while you finish the rest of your tasks. Cooking time for a boneless breast joint is 20-30 minutes, whereas a crown or complete bird takes longer.
Bacon Adding the Juices
Because the turkey loses its juices while being hacked, serving it carved on a plate is much easier than carving it at the table. Before serving, pour the accumulated liquids back over the chopped turkey to keep it moist as it cools.
Putting a Cover on the Cooked Meat
Because there’s generally a lot going on, it’s tempting to leave your turkey in the fridge uncovered or in an oven that’s turned off for the night, but this will dry it out further. Cover and refrigerate the turkey or cut it and chill in an airtight container no more than 2 hours after eating for safety and to help retain the turkey at its juiciest.
As much as you’d like to keep your leftovers for days, the NHS has advised that you haven’t had as much time to enjoy them as you would imagine. Cooked turkey should be consumed within two days after being refrigerated.
Of course, you may not be able to complete everything in two days. In such a case, you can freeze these festive leftovers to prevent wasting them, but do it no later than the second day after they’ve been in the refrigerator. If your turkey is frozen, you can keep it for two to six months if you defrost it completely before eating it.