How Long Can Turkey Sit Out Without Spoiling?

Turkey is one of the traditional dishes served during holidays and other special occasions. However, people can easily overlook food safety when preparing turkey. One of the most commonly asked questions is how long can turkey sit out without spoiling?

In this article, we will explore how to store turkey properly, the risks of leaving turkey out, and how long turkey can be safely left unrefrigerated.

Storing Turkey Properly

Storing raw turkey correctly is vital to prevent foodborne illnesses. When refrigerating raw turkey, it is essential to store it at or below 40°F. If you plan to store the turkey in the fridge, it is essential to keep the bird in its original packaging to prevent exposure to air.

Another option is to wrap the turkey in aluminum foil or plastic wrap tightly. Place it in a large enough container to avoid dripping and store it at the very bottom of the refrigerator. It is essential to use a refrigerator thermometer to monitor the temperature.

If you choose to freeze turkey, make sure you do it right away. Raw turkey can be frozen for up to six months if stored correctly. Wrap the turkey tightly in freezer plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then place it in a freezer bag. This will help prevent freezer burn.

The Risks of Leaving Turkey Out

Leaving turkey out is not recommended. Raw turkey is often contaminated with harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Campylobacter. If left out for too long, the bacteria will multiply rapidly and can cause foodborne illness.

The risk of food poisoning increases when turkey is left out at room temperature, especially during warmer seasons or in hotter climates. Moreover, it can be challenging to detect spoiled meat, as it does not typically have any noticeable changes.

How Long Can Turkey Be Safely Left Out?

The USDA recommends that turkey should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. This is because bacteria can grow rapidly between 40°F and 140°F, which is commonly referred to as the danger zone. Bacteria can multiply exponentially within this range, leading to foodborne illness.

However, the two-hour window is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Certain factors can impact how long turkey can sit out, including:

  • The temperature in the room
  • The temperature of the turkey before it was left out
  • The humidity in the room
  • Whether the turkey has been cooked or not

How Long Can Cooked Turkey Be Left Out?

Cooked turkey that has been left out should not be consumed if it has been in the danger zone temperatures (40°F-140°F) for more than two hours. However, if the room temperature is above 90°F, cooked turkey should not be left out for more than one hour.

For Thanksgiving dinner or large gatherings where food is served buffet-style, it is crucial to ensure that cooked turkey does not sit out for more than two hours. Use chafing dishes or crockpots to keep the food warm and out of the danger zone.

How Long Can Raw Turkey Be Left Out?

Raw turkey should not be left out for more than two hours, even if it is not cooked yet. It is essential to refrigerate the turkey as soon as possible if it has been left out for over two hours.

How to Determine if Turkey Has Gone Bad

It can be challenging to determine if turkey has gone bad, as it may not have any noticeable changes. However, some signs to look out for include:

  • Discoloration of the turkey
  • Foul smell
  • Slimy texture
  • Mold growth
  • Excessive liquids in the packaging

If you notice any of the above signs, discard the turkey immediately. Consuming turkey that has gone bad can lead to food poisoning, which can be life-threatening in severe cases.

Tips for Safe Turkey Handling

Here are some tips for safe turkey handling:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling turkey
  • Use a separate cutting board for turkey to prevent cross-contamination
  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey is cooked to the right temperature (165°F for all poultry)
  • Refrigerate or freeze turkey as soon as possible after buying
  • Thoroughly wash any surfaces that come into contact with raw turkey


Leaving turkey out for long periods can lead to foodborne illnesses, even if you plan to cook it. Cooked turkey should not be left out for more than two hours or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F. Raw turkey should not be left out for more than two hours. Always follow safe turkey handling practices to prevent food poisoning.

Common Questions and Answers

  • Q: How long can I keep leftover turkey in the fridge?

    A: Cooked turkey can be stored in the fridge for up to four days if stored correctly.
  • Q: Can I refreeze thawed turkey?
  • A: Raw turkey that has been thawed should not be refrozen. Cooked turkey that has been thawed can be refrozen but may lose some of its flavor and texture.
  • Q: Can I warm up leftover turkey that has been left out?
  • A: No. Leftover turkey that has been left out should be discarded.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture. (2021). Turkey. Retrieved from
  2. FDA. (2018). Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: Safe Eats – Meat, Poultry & Seafood. Retrieved from
  3. CDC. (2021). Salmonella in Food. Retrieved from

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