How long can I safely eat Thanksgiving leftovers?

Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics

For your Thanksgiving leftovers follow this simple rules:

  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of cooking food
  • Keep your refrigerator at less than 40 degrees farenheit
  • After 4 days in refrigerator, throw away leftovers
  • Put leftovers in shallow containers, preferably 2 inches depth
Thanksgiving dinner often leaves us with extra food and opportunities to get creative. But exactly how long should we keep repeating variations of our Thanksgiving dinner? Use the following guidelines to determine when your Thanksgiving leftovers should be left behind:
  • Refrigerated cooked turkey should be eaten within three to four days.
  • Stuffing and gravy should be eaten within one to two days.
  • Casseroles and cooked vegetables should be eaten within three to four days.
  • Fruit and cream pies should be eaten within two to three days.
Regardless of how many days have passed, when in doubt -- throw it out.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Four simple steps to avoid food poisoning include:
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food
  • Separate food (raw meat, fish, poultry and eggs from cooked food) and use different cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination
  • Cook food to a safe internal temperature
  • Store leftovers in containers and in the refrigerator/freezer within two hours
Check out this video on food safety tips:

For a complete list of the safe minimum internal temperatures of some of your favorite holiday dishes, as well as information on how to properly use a food thermometer, visit
Peter DeLucia
Health Education
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of food-borne illness is by washing your hands frequently, especially when preparing a meal.  Thoroughly wash your hands between the preparations of uncooked poultry and ready-to-serve foods. Preparing a Thanksgiving meal is not an easy task for even the most seasoned of chefs, so you should follow these tips to ensure a safe and healthy holiday meal!
Thaw - Allow at least 2 to 3 days to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator. To avoid cross-contamination, do not place thawing Turkey or any raw meat, (even if commercially wrapped), above food in your refrigerator that will not be cooked before serving. Never defrost a turkey by leaving it out at room temperature.

Separate and Prepare - Bacteria on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces. Use different cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and veggies. One of the best ways to guarantee a safe Thanksgiving dinner is to keep the raw turkey away from salads and side dishes that won't be cooked. Wash hands, surfaces, and utensils often to avoid spreading bacteria when preparing food.
Stuff - To avoid undercooked stuffing that can cause food borne illness, bake stuffing separately in a shallow pan, where it can quickly reach 165°F.

Cook -Turkeys should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  It’s essential to have a 0 to 220 degree probe thermometer at home so that you can accurately measure the temperature of your food.   Insert the probe thermometer deep into the meat.  If you prepare foods in advance such as soups and stocks, make sure to cool them in the refrigerator, uncovered in shallow pans.

Properly Cool Leftovers -Improper cooling practices frequently cause food borne illness. Leftover turkey, stuffing, etc., must be refrigerated within two hours. Be sure not to pack your refrigerator with leftovers so tightly that the cool air can’t do its job.   The rule of thumb is to avoid filling containers with food deeper than four inches and then stacking multiple containers upon each other. Once the food is cooled to under 45°F it‘s safe to stack away!

Reheat - Leftovers must be reheated to at least 165°F before serving.

Continue Learning about Food Storage & Health

A Good Reason (Besides Taste) to Avoid Canned Foods Whenever Possible
A Good Reason (Besides Taste) to Avoid Canned Foods Whenever Possible
In the late 18th century, Napoleon offered a reward to whoever could figure out how to safely preserve food for his traveling army. Nicholas Appert se...
Read More
How should soybeans be stored?
Michael T. Murray, NDMichael T. Murray, ND
Once cooked, soybeans can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days if placed in an airtigh...
More Answers
How should apricots be stored?
Michael T. Murray, NDMichael T. Murray, ND
Dried apricots unfortunately contain high levels of sulfur dioxide. This is a result of sulfur, whic...
More Answers
How to Store and When to Toss 5 Pantry Staples
How to Store and When to Toss 5 Pantry StaplesHow to Store and When to Toss 5 Pantry StaplesHow to Store and When to Toss 5 Pantry StaplesHow to Store and When to Toss 5 Pantry Staples
Check out these tips for where to store and when to toss common food items in your kitchen from culinary nutritionist Stefanie Sacks.
Start Slideshow

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.