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Turkey Tips Step 4: Loving Your Leftovers

Posted by Chris Bernstein, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Health and Safety
Nov 26, 2014

It’s over.

All of your guests have scraped their Thanksgiving dinner plates clean and have migrated from the dinner table to the couch.

While you may want to immediately relax and celebrate after preparing a successful meal, it’s important that you first refrigerate any leftovers within two hours. Prompt storage can prevent pathogenic bacteria that cause foodborne illness from growing on your leftovers. These bacteria can’t be smelled or tasted.

Leftovers should be stored in shallow pans or containers to decrease their cooling time. The quicker your leftovers cool, the less time they spend in the food “Danger Zone” (40 - 140 °F). You should also cut leftover turkey into smaller pieces to decrease its cooling time.

While you may have cooked the stuffing inside of your turkey, it should be stored separately from the turkey in a shallow container.

There are two storage options for your leftovers:

  • Storage in the fridge: Leftovers are safe for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and can be frozen during that time for longer storage.
  • Storage in the freezer: Once frozen, all foods are safe forever, as long as your freezer remains 0 °F or below. But for best quality, use leftovers within 2 to 6 months.

If you’re selfless enough to allow your guests to take your leftovers home with them, the food will be safe as long as the guests are not traveling for more than two hours. If any guests are traveling more than two hours, their leftovers must be kept at 40 °F or below in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.

Whether you’re planning to enjoy your leftovers after a long day of Black Friday shopping or during a college football rivalry weekend game, be sure to follow these tips and all of our other Turkey Tips to keep your food safe and healthy.

For More Information

If you have more questions, visit Let’s Talk Turkey to learn how to safely plan, select, thaw, and prepare a turkey or check out these turkey resources at  Stay tuned this month for more blogs about how you can make your holiday happy and healthy for everyone at the table.

If you have additional questions about cooking a turkey, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, English or Spanish.

If you need help on Thanksgiving Day, the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline will be open from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You can also ask questions of “Karen,” FSIS’ virtual representative, 24/7 at  Visit for questions in Spanish.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety