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Cooked meat and poultry are best stored in the fridge or freezer when you’re done enjoying them fresh from the oven, but leaving the leftovers for too long can cause the flavoursome off-cuts to become a breeding ground for nasty bacteria. A change in the smell, colour, or texture of perishable ingredients is often a good indicator as to whether they have “gone off”, but it can be a gamble to try your luck when it comes to leftover meat. Experts have shared exactly how long your cooked turkey can safely last in the fridge, and when to consider throwing out other cuts of pork, beef, chicken, and duck after Christmas.
How long can you store cooked turkey?
The process of safely storing cooked meat starts as soon as you have carved what you need for your Christmas dinner. For many people, this would have been on December 25, or around three days ago.
Once cooked, you should store your turkey leftovers in the fridge within a couple of hours once the meat has had time to cool. This is best done by cutting the remaining meat from the bone and portioning it out into small, air-tight containers.
However, as much as you’d like to store your leftovers for several days, you may not have as much time as you might think.
Cooked poultry should be eaten within three to four days after being moved to the fridge, meaning it is almost time to throw the leftovers out if you cooked the meat on Christmas Day.
According to an expert at the National Turkey Federation, it is possible to freeze turkey trimmings after they have been cooked and stored in the fridge if you want to make them last longer.
They said: “Leftover turkey can be frozen after three days and it will be fine. If your turkey has been in the fridge for one, two or three days, you are good to freeze it, as long as it was in a well-sealed container and hasn’t dried out.”
Zip-lock bags specifically marked with “freezer” are the best packaging, though you can use a container instead. If so, it is important to make sure that the turkey is “pretty well packed in” to minimise the amount of air inside the tub and reduce the risk of freezer burn.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) noted that frozen meat will be safe to eat “for a long time”, though you should consume it within three months.
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While fresh meat that has been cooked is easy to freeze, the FSA warned that some Christmas turkey, duck, and goose products may have been previously frozen already this year before being sold as chilled.
A spokesperson explained that this is due to a temporary change in marketing rules as part of a range of measures to help support the poultry industry with the current challenges presented by bird flu.
The FSA warned: “If you are planning to refreeze your product it’s important that you check the label. This is because different products may or may not be suitable for domestic refreezing depending on how they have been processed by the manufacturer. Products will be clearly labelled with appropriate instructions.”
Despite the change, the agency has advised against refreezing thawed meat at home yourself.
If you’re wondering when to get rid of any other leftovers like chicken or beef, it will depend on what you did with it on the day of cooking.
Poultry that has been kept in the fridge can be safely stored for three to four days if the temperature is 4C or below.
Cooked chicken can also be kept in a freezer for three to four months as long as it has not been exposed to room temperature conditions for more than two hours while cooling down.
Chilled beef can be consumed for two to three days after being cooked as long as it is wrapped in cling film, foil, or tightly covered in a container.
For frozen storage, wrap red meat in freezer paper, heavy foil, or place in a freezer bag, and use it within two to three months.
If duck made an appearance on your Christmas table, the cooked leftovers will be good to eat for up to three days in the fridge. To store cooked duck, remove meat from the bone, wrap it in plastic or foil, and keep the meat in the coldest part of the appliance.
Like chicken, the duck should not be exposed to room temperature conditions for more than two hours before being chilled as the risk of pathogenic bacterial growth is significantly higher.
Cooked pork will last in the fridge for longer if you store it within two hours after being served hot, and should keep for three to four days. Always ensure your leftovers are wrapped tightly or kept in an airtight container.
Freezing cooked pork is also possible as long as the meat is portioned out into smaller quantities beforehand. For the best quality, use within two to three months.
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