When you have leftover turkey and no space left in your refrigerator, you might be wondering if it is safe to leave cooked turkey out overnight. Often, this will occur at a time when you have a lot of other food left over too, so you may be struggling for space. Leaving the turkey out might seem ideal.
Can you leave cooked turkey out overnight? You cannot leave cooked turkey out overnight safely, no. Cooked turkey should not be left out of the fridge for more than two hours at the most, because foodborne bacteria will start to grow in meat that is kept between 40 and 140 degrees F. Turkey must therefore be stored in the fridge in order to keep it edible.
Why Does Cooked Turkey Need to Go in the Fridge?
Cooked turkey needs to go into the fridge to reduce the speed with which bacteria in the food can multiply and spread. Refrigeration makes the food last longer, and ensures that it is safe to eat. Chilling food massively slows down bacterial growth.
It is really important to put turkey in the fridge if you want to eat some later, otherwise it will soon be unsafe to eat. You could get all sorts of foodborne diseases from unrefrigerated turkey, including salmonella.
Cooked meats may not be as risky as raw meats, and it is not guaranteed that you will get sick from eating turkey that has been left out overnight, but the USDA states that this unsafe and cooked meat must be refrigerated.
How Long Can You Leave Cooked Turkey at Room Temperature For?
You should not leave cooked turkey at room temperature for more than two hours, and less if it is sitting in a warm environment. At 90 degrees F and over, the turkey needs to be refrigerated within an hour.
If turkey is left sitting at room temperature for longer than this, you should throw it away, as the bacteria can be present in the meat with no visible signs. The bird might look, smell, feel, and taste fine, and still give you food poisoning.
Do You Need to Refrigerate Raw Turkey?
Yes, turkey needs to be refrigerated prior to cooking as well as afterward. If you are defrosting a turkey, it is important to do this in cold conditions – the refrigerator or in cold water – or very quickly in the microwave, which is hot enough to prevent bacterial growth on the exterior of the bird.
Do not leave a turkey to defrost at room temperature, especially if it is a large one. It needs to be placed in the fridge. This will mean that it takes a lot longer to defrost, but it will ensure that bacteria is not growing on the outside of the turkey while the inside is still frozen.
Can You Reheat Refrigerated Turkey?
Yes, it is safe to reheat cooked turkey from your refrigerator. This is a great way to use up leftovers after Thanksgiving, but you should make sure that you only heat up what you are going to consume at that time. Turkey should not be heated up more than once.
According to the USDA, you can cook turkey, store it in the fridge, and then heat it one more time to consume it. However, you should not put any leftovers that have been heated a second time back into the fridge, and you should not reheat them again.
Only heat what you use, and leave the rest in the fridge until you will want it.
Can You Freeze Cooked Turkey?
If you really can’t get your turkey into your fridge and you don’t want to waste it, you might be wondering whether you can freeze it instead. The answer is that yes, you can. As long as it is cooled and then frozen within a couple of hours, it will be fresh for months.
It is safe to put it in the fridge and then freeze it later, but be aware that it will have a limited shelf-life once it comes back out of the freezer. Freezing does not reset the clock on bacterial growth, so if you have frozen your turkey after three days in the fridge, you will not have much time to use it up once you defrost it.
It is best to freeze turkey promptly after cooking. You should portion it into small containers so you can just grab what you will use, and avoid any wastage.
Cooked turkey should last in the freezer for a long time, but after about four months, the taste and texture may start to deteriorate.
How Long Will Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge?
Cooked turkey should last for around three to four days in the fridge. Cooking kills off bacteria in the meat, and chilling it slows the growth of new bacteria cells, so your turkey should stay fresh for quite a while if it is kept cool.
You should only take what you want out of the fridge at one time. The rest should be stored in a sealed container in a cold part of the fridge. Do not take it out and leave it on the counter.
If you notice that the turkey has changed in terms of its texture, taste, smell, or look after a couple of days, you may wish to discard it. It is possible that something has got onto the meat and it is starting to break down, at which point it is no longer safe for you to consume.
If in doubt, it is better not to eat meat, so if you have any concerns, throw the turkey away rather than risk getting food poisoning from it.
You should not ever leave turkey at room temperature overnight. This is true whether it is raw or cooked. It must be stored at low temperatures to inhibit bacterial growth and keep the meat fresh. After about two hours at room temperature, your risk of getting something like salmonella from the meat has risen significantly, and the turkey is no longer safe to eat according to current food hygiene guidelines.