We all know that it’s dangerous to eat meat that hasn’t been kept properly. Poor refrigeration, lack of food hygiene, and bad handling practices can make any food unsafe, but particularly meats. If you have a thawed turkey, therefore, you’re probably wondering how you can keep it to best ensure that it is safe (and tasty) for you and your family to eat.
How long can you keep a thawed turkey in the refrigerator? A thawed turkey can be refrigerated for one or two days, after which it must be cooked and eaten. You should not keep a thawed turkey in the fridge for longer than two days, or it may start to grow harmful bacteria. Keep a tray beneath the turkey to catch any raw meat juices, and don’t leave it on the counter.
How Long Can You Refrigerate a Thawed Turkey For?
You should only refrigerate a thawed turkey for two days. A turkey can be thawed out in the refrigerator, and if your plans change within those two days, you can actually refreeze it safely. If you defrost your turkey using cold water, you should not store it in the fridge at all; it ought to be cooked immediately.
The best way to thaw a turkey is to place it in the refrigerator and let it slowly defrost while still being kept at a low temperature. It is important to keep a tray under the turkey to catch any melted water or meat juices, or these could contaminate other food that you have in the fridge.
If you think your turkey is not going to get used within these two days, it is best to return it to the freezer to avoid any potential bacterial contamination. If your turkey has been in the fridge for longer than two days, you may decide that it is safer not to eat it.
While this can seem wasteful, the chance of getting food poisoning from improperly stored meat is high, and you don’t want to risk this, especially if others will be eating the turkey that you have prepared.
How Long Does it Take to Thaw a Turkey?
This will depend on the method that you use. In the fridge, it will take longer than if you thaw the turkey in the microwave or by using cold water.
A four to twelve pound turkey will usually take around one to three days to thaw in the fridge. After this point, you have another two days to use it up. A twenty to twenty-four pound turkey could take five to six days to fully thaw, and you again have two days after it has thawed to use the turkey.
In general, you should allow an extra day for every four or five pounds of turkey. The size of the turkey makes no difference to how long you can store it for once it has fully thawed out.
If you are defrosting your turkey using cold water (refreshed every thirty minutes), it will take two to six hours for a four to twelve pound turkey. A twenty to twenty-four pound turkey will take around ten to twelve hours.
To defrost a turkey in a microwave oven, you will need to follow the cooking guidance on the packaging, as this will depend on how it has been packaged, its size, and various other aspects. Do not just put the turkey in the microwave and turn it up high; it is important to defrost it safely so that bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grow.
You should not defrost a turkey using warm water or by leaving it on the counter. This is not considered safe, because the outside of the turkey will stay at room temperature for longer than is safe, and will begin to harbor bacteria long before the inside of the turkey has been defrosted.
Turkey that has been defrosted at room temperature is often exposed to temperatures of over 40° F for quite some time, and this is not considered safe. Bacteria will be breeding quickly and will have time to spread throughout the meat while the inside of it is still defrosting.
Why is it Safe to Refreeze Thawed Turkey?
It is only safe to refreeze a turkey that has been thawed in the fridge. This is because the turkey’s temperature has remained low enough throughout the thawing process that it should not have had an opportunity to start harboring bacteria.
Turkey that has been defrosted in a microwave oven or in cold water will not have significantly increased in temperature to the point that it is unsafe to eat, but it will have increased enough that some bacteria could be present.
It will have reached over 40° F for at least short periods of time, and this means that there will be some bacteria present. It will not have had the chance to spread very far through the meat, as the overall temperature will still be cold.
Immediate cooking will deal with this issue before the bacteria has had time to spread further, but re-freezing is not considered safe or advisable, and should not be done.
What If You Have Stored Turkey For Too Long?
Everyone will make their own judgment on what is and isn’t safe to eat, but the standard for refrigerating turkey is up to two days once the meat has fully thawed out, and if you have kept it for longer than that, you are at risk of consuming bacteria.
If your turkey has been left on the counter at room temperature at any point, it should be disposed of, as bacteria will have started to breed in the meat that has reached room temperature, and it will no longer be safe to eat.
As long as your turkey has been defrosted in the refrigerator, it should be safe to keep it for a couple of days before you cook and eat it. If you need to refreeze it instead, make sure you put it in the freezer within two days.
Always cook turkey that has been defrosted using cold water or a microwave immediately; don’t store it in the fridge.