Enjoying Leftover Turkey Safely

Succulent, savory, delicious turkey is a staple of festive and holiday meals. The large bird can easily serve an entire family – and provide leftovers for meals later in the week. Once dinner is over, there’s usually still plenty left to do up into turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey hash, turkey – you name it, and someone has created a recipe to do it with turkey.

It’s important to consider safety when storing leftovers, though, especially leftover turkey. The incidence of food poisoning cases seen at emergency rooms across the nation nearly triples in the week of so following holidays. If you have leftovers from the Thanksgiving feast that you’re planning to use later in the week, the National Turkey Federation suggests the following safety tips for handling, storage and reheating turkey:

Cooking a Turkey:

Always cook turkey at 325 degrees or higher. Slow-cooking overnight at temperatures below that gives bacteria ample opportunity to grow.

To Check The Temperature On A Turkey:

Insert thermometer into the deepest part of the thigh or breast. Meat is cooked when temperature is 170 degrees F in the breast or 180 degrees F in the thigh.

Why are those numbers higher than those recommended by the federal Food and Drug Administration? Because, says the National Turkey Federation, those higher temperatures yield more turkey, more flavorful turkey and turkey that is easier to carve.

Storing Leftover Turkey Safely:

Turkey should never be cooled or stored with the stuffing still inside..

Cut large pieces of turkey into parts – breasts, thighs, etc – and store in separate containers so that the meat cools quickly and thoroughly.

Cooked turkey can be safely eaten for up to 2 days from the refrigerator.

Cooked turkey can be frozen in smaller parts and eaten safely for up to six months.

Remove cooked turkey from carcass and refrigerate for use within 2 days or freeze for later use. 

Eating Leftover Turkey:

Turkey cold from the refrigerator is great in sandwiches, sliced meat platters and turkey salad.

Make turkey broth or stock from the turkey carcass and bones within 2 days of cooking the turkey.

Reheated in a steamer or oven, turkey should reach 165 degrees F. to be safe.

Reheat small pieces of turkey in gravy and ladle over mashed potatoes or rice.

Use cut up turkey pieces from the breast, thigh or drumstick in turkey pot pie or turkey a la king.