For many families, the prospect of turkey sandwiches and turkey soup after Thanksgiving is almost as exciting as the big meal itself.
While that succulent leftover turkey may be tempting, proper food handling is necessary to keep that after-holiday treat from becoming a food-poisoning trap.
“Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator, at or below 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), for three or four days," said University of Georgia Extension food safety specialist Judy Harrison. "Use the stuffing and gravy within one or two days.”
Here are Harrison’s tips for prolonging the enjoyment of your Thanksgiving turkey without risking illness.
It is best to cook stuffing outside the turkey, but if you stuff the bird, you need to remove the stuffing from the bird before it’s brought to the table. Harmful bacteria are more likely to be a problem if the stuffing stays in the bird after cooking.
Go ahead set aside some “leftover” stuffing before you serve dinner, and put it up in the refrigerator.
Put a timer on that turkey
Don't leave the turkey out after the meal. From the time the turkey comes out of the oven, you have about two hours to carve it, serve it and then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers.
So that it cools quickly once it’s in the refrigerator, slice the meat, and store both meat and stuffing in shallow, covered containers.
Be realistic about how much turkey you can eat in four days, and freeze the rest.
Freeze it for the future
For longer-term storage in the freezer, Harrison recommends packing leftovers in freezer containers, freezer paper or in heavy-duty aluminum foil to avoid freezer burn.
Frozen turkey, stuffing and gravy should be eaten within a month for best quality.
Be sure to bring any leftover gravy or other liquid leftovers to a rolling boil before serving. Reheat any solid leftovers like stuffing or meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, measured with a food thermometer.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)