The good, the bad, and the ugly about turkey leftovers

According to the National Turkey Federation, 91% of Americans will savor the wonderful aroma and succulent taste of hot turkey on Thanksgiving Day, then come the leftovers!

The National Turkey Federation (NTF) reports over 690 millions pounds of turkey are consumed every Thanksgiving. Wow! That’s a lot of turkey! Just imagine how much turkey becomes our beloved leftovers. According to the NTF, the top five ways consumers eat leftover turkey are:


1. Sandwiches (67%)
2. Soups or Stews (20%)
3. Salads (14%)
4. Casseroles (12%)
5. Stir-frys (6%)


So, how will you be enjoying your leftover turkey after Thanksgiving? When I was a kid, we ate leftover turkey every day for lunch and dinner the entire week after Thanksgiving (thank goodness we were spared breakfasts). It got to the point that just hearing the word “turkey” made me want to run off screaming. Now, I know a lot more about turkey leftovers than I did back then – all the good, the bad, and the ugly!


Turkey leftovers – The good…

Nutrients in turkey have been found to keep blood cholesterol down, boost the immune system, regulate blood pressure, protect against birth defects, cancer and heart disease, aid in nerve function and growth, and assist in healing processes. In addition…

  • Turkey is an excellent source of protein.
  • Turkey is healthier than any other protein source, including chicken.
  • Turkey is low in fat.
  • Turkey is naturally low in sodium.
  • Turkey is lower in calories than lean red meat.
  • Turkey is a good source of vitamins B, B1, B6, zinc, potassium and selenium.
  • A 5-ounce serving of turkey provides almost half the recommended daily allowance of folic acid.
  • Turkey leftovers can be prepared in a multitude of delicious ways.
  • Turkey prices are extremely low during the holiday season.


Turkey leftovers – The bad…

The only bad thing about turkey leftovers is that we can get Salmonella food poisoning if we’re not careful. As busy as we are on Thanksgiving Day, it’s easy for time to zip by when it comes to stashing those leftovers into the fridge. Be sure to follow these leftover storage safety precautions so your memories of the holiday won’t turn bad.



  • Transfer leftovers to the refrigerator within two hours after the bird leaves the oven.
  • Remove stuffing from the turkey and store both stuffing and meat separately in the fridge.
  • Leftover turkey destined for the freezer also needs to be frozen within two hours after leaving the oven, not days later.
  • Refrigerated, cooked leftover turkey is safe to eat for only three to four days after Thanksgiving.
  • Leftover turkey should be reheated to at least 165 degrees F. Reheated turkey eaten at lower temperatures may breed salmonella bacteria.
  • Turkey leftovers can be stored in the freezer for up to four months. 
  • Freeze meat de-boned and in no larger than 2″ slices. Place the meat in small evenly shaped packages. Use freezer paper or heavy-duty foil free of moisture and air to help prevent freezer burn. Remember to write dates on the packages.


Turkey leftovers – The ugly…

OK. So you haven’t followed the advice on turkey leftover safety. You might find yourself with an ugly case of Salmonella food poisoning, which could mean diarrhea, cramping, fever and chills, sweats, vomiting, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite. It could get even uglier if shock sets in due to dehydration from prolonged diarrhea. This can be deadly, especially in infants and people over 60. Bacteria can also infect other parts of the body if they get into the bloodstream. All this can be prevented by taken the necessary precautions when storing leftover turkey.


For a happy Thanksgiving and all the leftovers afterward…

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving Day to decide what you’ll do with all the leftovers. Find some time before the big day to Google turkey leftover recipes. This preplanning will give you a better idea of how much meat to leave out for a few meals after the holiday and how much to freeze. Immediately freezing a good portion of the leftover turkey will let you enjoy those leftovers a few weeks later, as well. Preplanning will help Thanksgiving Day go more smoothly by making the storing of the leftovers faster and easier…and, hopefully, safer too.


National Turkey Federation

Leftover Turkey Recipes

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