Eating leftover turkey after several days is a common concern around the holidays. Turkey is a perishable food that can spoil quickly if not stored properly. Many people wonder how long leftover turkey will last in the fridge and whether it’s safe to eat after a week or more. This article provides answers on the safety of eating leftover turkey, proper storage, signs of spoilage, and how to reheat turkey to destroy harmful bacteria.
Quick answer: Is it safe to eat turkey after 6 days in the fridge?
Most experts agree that leftover turkey stored properly in the fridge will last 3 to 4 days. After this time, quality and safety start to decline. At 6 days, there is an increased risk of bacterial growth like salmonella and listeria. Reheating may reduce but not eliminate the risk. For best safety and quality, leftover turkey is best consumed within 3 to 4 days.
How long does cooked turkey last in the fridge?
The shelf life of cooked turkey depends on several factors:
- Proper storage: Store turkey in shallow airtight containers in the coldest part of the fridge (40°F or below). Cut turkey off the bone and divide into smaller portions to chill quickly.
- Cooking method: Deep-fried turkey lasts only 3 to 4 days, while roasted, smoked, or grilled turkey lasts 3 to 4 days.
- Ingredients: Turkey gravy, stuffing and broths have shorter shelf lives of only 1 to 2 days.
- Freezer storage: Turkey meat or broth frozen at 0°F may last 4 to 6 months.
In general, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service states that leftover cooked turkey will stay safe and retain good quality in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Many other reputable sources agree turkey will last a maximum of 3 to 4 days after cooking.
Is it safe to eat leftover turkey after 6 days?
At 6 days after cooking, leftover turkey exceeds the recommended fridge life advised by the USDA and most food safety experts. The increased storage time raises the risk of bacterial growth.
Bacteria like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli are common causes of foodborne illness, and all multiply rapidly at refrigerator temperatures. While cooking kills these bacteria initially, they can restart growth as the turkey cools and ages over several days.
Listeria is especially concerning, as it continues growing at refrigerator temps. A USDA study found listeria levels increased 1000-fold in turkey stored 21 days at 40°F. Other bacteria increased rapidly as well.
At 6 days, turkey may not look, smell or taste spoiled, but bacteria levels can be high. The longer turkey is stored past 4 days, the greater the chances these disease-causing microbes have multiplied to dangerous levels.
Can reheating make 6-day old turkey safe?
Proper reheating can kill some bacteria that grow in stored turkey, but may not make the meat entirely safe. Some issues with relying on reheating include:
- Spore-forming bacteria like Clostridium perfringens survive cooking and high temperatures. Reheating may not kill spores that have grown during fridge storage.
- Bacterial toxins can remain in turkey even if bacteria are killed. Reheating does not neutralize toxins.
- Not all areas may reach safe temperatures, allowing bacteria survival.
For highest safety, the USDA recommends consuming turkey within 3 to 4 days and reheating any leftovers to an internal temperature of 165°F.
How can you tell if leftover turkey has gone bad?
Trust your senses to tell if turkey has spoiled after a week in the fridge:
- Smell: Discard turkey if it smells unpleasant, rancid, or very different from fresh turkey.
- Appearance: Toss if there are signs of sliminess or mold growth.
- Texture: Discard if the turkey feels very sticky, mushy, or slimy.
- Color: Raw turkey is pink to light brown. Cooked turkey may turn grayish or green as it spoils.
Follow basic food safety rules: “When in doubt, throw it out.” Do not taste questionable turkey.
Proper storage for leftover turkey
Storing turkey correctly helps maximize its shelf life and safety.
- Refrigerate: Keep turkey stored at 40°F or below. Use an appliance thermometer to check.
- Small portions: Cut turkey meat off the bones. Divide into smaller containers to chill faster.
- Moisture-proof material: Store turkey in airtight, moisture-proof containers or resealable plastic bags.
- Use oldest first: Eat oldest leftovers sooner. Label containers with dates.
- Avoid cross-contamination: Store turkey separately from raw meats. Discard if juices leak.
- Freeze for longer storage: Frozen turkey keeps 4 to 6 months at 0°F.
Proper chilled storage slows bacteria growth. But even with perfect fridge temps, leftover turkey has a limited shelf life of 3 to 4 days.
Reheating guidelines for leftover turkey
Thoroughly reheating leftover turkey to 165°F can help destroy bacteria that may have multiplied during storage. However reheating does not make turkey safe that has already spoiled.
Follow these turkey reheating guidelines:
- Use a food thermometer to check internal temperature. All areas should reach 165°F.
- Heat pieces shallowly in oven or covered in microwave until hot. Stir, flip. Allow extra time for denser items.
- Bring gravies, soups and broths to a full rolling boil for at least 1 minute before serving.
- Do not slow cook, or warm at lower temperatures, as this allows bacteria to survive.
- Only reheat thawed turkey once. Cook extra turkey for later meals.
Proper reheating helps ensure safety but does not provide unlimited shelf life. For highest quality and safety, eat leftover turkey within 3 to 4 days and do not store in the fridge longer than 6 days.
Leftover turkey will last 3 to 4 days if properly stored in shallow containers in the refrigerator at 40°F or below. Most food safety experts advise against eating turkey that has been refrigerated more than 4 days after cooking.
At 6 days after cooking, turkey is past its prime quality and has an increased risk of bacterial growth. Reheating may reduce but cannot completely eliminate the risk after this length of storage. For optimal safety and quality, leftover turkey is best eaten within 3 to 4 days, and discarded after 6 days in the fridge.
Rely on your senses to check for signs of spoilage. Discard turkey that smells strange or has an unusual color, texture or slimy appearance. When reheating, use a food thermometer to ensure turkey reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
Follow the basic rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.” Do not taste questionable turkey. With proper chilled storage and reheating, leftover turkey can be safely enjoyed for 3 to 4 days after cooking.
|Turkey Type||Refrigerator Life|
|Whole roasted turkey||3 to 4 days|
|Turkey bones and carcass||3 to 4 days|
|Cooked turkey pieces||3 to 4 days|
|Cooked turkey gravy||1 to 2 days|
|Turkey stuffing and broth||1 to 2 days|
|Fried turkey pieces||3 to 4 days|
|Turkey sandwich||3 to 4 days|
|Turkey soup or casserole||3 to 4 days|
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I freeze leftover turkey to extend its shelf life?
Yes, properly frozen turkey will last much longer. Freeze turkey in airtight packaging up to 4 to 6 months at 0°F. Thaw completely in the fridge before reheating.
What temperature should I reheat turkey to?
Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured by a food thermometer. This temperature kills potentially harmful bacteria.
Can I eat turkey that was left out overnight?
No. Turkey should not sit at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Discard any turkey left out beyond this time, do not simply reheat or refrigerate.
How long can cooked turkey last in the freezer?
In airtight packaging at 0°F, cooked turkey pieces or bones can last 4 to 6 months. Ground turkey or gravy may last 1 to 3 months. Label packages with date.
What happens if you eat bad turkey?
Consuming spoiled, undercooked, or contaminated turkey can cause food poisoning. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. See a doctor if symptoms persist.
How do you know if cooked turkey has gone bad?
Signs turkey has spoiled include an unpleasant or rancid odor, unusual coloration, sliminess, or sticky texture. Mold development is another sign turkey has gone bad and should be discarded.
Leftover turkey decomposes quickly due to its perishable nature. While proper refrigeration can slow the growth of bacteria, cooked turkey has a relatively short fridge shelf life of only 3 to 4 days after cooking.
Eating turkey that has been refrigerated for more than 4 days carries an increased risk of foodborne illness due to potential bacterial contamination. Many food safety experts warn against consuming leftover turkey after 6 days in the fridge.
Reheating old turkey may reduce but cannot eliminate bacteria that may have multiplied during extended storage times. For optimal safety and quality, leftover turkey should be tightly sealed and stored in the fridge for no more than 3 to 4 days. Use your senses and good judgment before choosing to eat turkey that is over 6 days old.