When you store meat in the fridge, you only have a brief window before it starts to go downhill. If you keep it in there too long, it might even spoil. So about how long does sliced turkey last in the fridge before you have to toss it out?
How Long Does Sliced Turkey Last in the Fridge?
Sliced turkey breast—and leftover thighs, wings, and drumsticks—should keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days after they’re cooked. Sliced deli turkey may last a few days longer if it was packaged in a vacuum-sealed container, but once the package is opened, you should consume the meat within a week.
How Long Does Sliced Turkey Breast Last In The Fridge Before Going Bad?
You can keep sliced turkey breast in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, assuming you’ve stored it properly.
All meat products—including sliced turkey—need to be stored in the refrigerator, at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Meat that’s been exposed to the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees for longer than 2 hours could be harboring dangerous bacteria.
Storing the turkey breast in the fridge will keep these bacteria from multiplying too quickly. Still, the meat will start to show signs of spoilage (see below) after a few days, so it’s better to consume it as soon as you can.
Can You Freeze Sliced Turkey?
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself with more turkey leftovers than your household can consume within a 4-day period. If you suspect that this will be the case, try freezing the meat instead.
It’s safe to freeze sliced turkey for as long as you need to. However, you’ll need to keep a few other things in mind.
When meat is cooked, it loses a lot of its moisture. That’s why you’ll notice that a large cut like beef brisket weighs much less when you take it off the smoker than it did when you were prepping it.
Exposure to freezing temperatures—that is, 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below—has the effect of drying out the meat still further. So when you store cooked meat in the freezer, you have to take care to ensure that it won’t be too dry when it’s time to reheat it.
Wrap the sliced turkey in plastic wrap before adding a second layer of aluminum foil. As an alternative, you can put the slices in a freezer-safe zip-top bag. Label the package with the contents, as well as today’s date. Set the package in the freezer.
For best results, don’t store sliced turkey in the freezer for any longer than 2 months. Take it out of the freezer on the day before you want to eat it and let it thaw overnight. The texture will improve if you reheat it with a little bit of gravy or sauce.
One last thing: Try to freeze the turkey as soon as you know you won’t be eating it anytime soon. The longer you keep it in the fridge, the sooner it will spoil after thawing.
What About Deli Turkey?
If you’re talking about sliced turkey from the deli rather than slices of turkey that you’ve prepared yourself, similar guidelines apply. The meat should still keep for 3 to 4 days.
The thing to remember about sliced turkey is that more of the surface area is exposed to the air than there would be if the meat was still intact. That’s what hastens bacteria growth.
You can prolong the shelf life of deli turkey and your own smoked sliced turkey by wrapping it well in plastic wrap, or keeping it in tightly sealed containers. Try to fit as many slices in each package as you can. The goal is to minimize exposure to the air.
Some processed deli turkey is sold in vacuum-sealed packages to help preserve it for longer periods. Once you’ve opened the package, you should consume this type of turkey within 7 days.
Vacuum-packed turkey might still be safe to eat after a week or so. However, you’re bound to notice a decline in quality. It’s better to err on the side of caution and discard any meat that’s been open for a week or longer.
What About Dark Meat?
If you have leftover drumsticks and thigh meat, those should keep for up to 4 days as well. Since the dark meat is higher in fat than the turkey breast, it will also keep better in the freezer.
When we have a combination of white and dark meat left over from a roasted turkey, we like to tuck it into a savory stew or pot pie. The contrast of textures adds complexity to the dish, and the gravy prevents the meat from drying out in the fridge.
You can use the same technique for smoked turkey, but be aware that the smoky flavor will be present in the dish. We’ve found that it’s better to enjoy smoked turkey leftovers on their own—particularly the drumsticks, which are excellent when reheated.
How To Tell When Sliced Turkey is Bad
Wondering whether your sliced turkey is still fresh? The first thing you should do is give the meat a good sniff.
When meat goes bad, it develops a foul odor. The smell is usually reminiscent of sulfur or rotten eggs, but it may also be overly sweet or sour. Basically, if the turkey smells like anything other than cooked turkey meat, it’s time to throw it away.
Spoiled sliced turkey might also be discolored in spots. A grayish hue indicates that the meat is no longer fresh. Spots of green or blue, meanwhile, mean that the turkey has begun to grow mold. In either case, discard the meat immediately.
A slimy texture is often an indicator of spoilage in raw and cooked meats. That said, some deli turkeys will already have a slight film on them when you take them out of the package.
Often, this means that harmless lactobacillus bacteria have already begun to feed on the sugars that the processors used to flavor the meat. As long as the turkey still smells okay and you’re consuming it within 7 days of opening the package, you should be all set.
On the other hand, if the package has been open for longer than a week, or if the turkey smells a little bit off, you’re better off discarding it. Similarly, if your freshly cooked turkey develops a slimy coating, it’s probably gone bad.
Does Reheating Sliced Turkey Destroy Bacteria?
Reheating turkey will kill off some bacteria. That’s why it’s better to reheat leftovers before you eat them, although the meat should still be technically safe to consume as long as you refrigerated it promptly.
However, if the meat was left unrefrigerated for longer than 2 hours, reheating it won’t be sufficient to kill off all the toxins created by the bacteria. In temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, this window shortens to a single hour.
The types of bacteria that cause these heat-resistant toxins can cause serious illness. Staphylococcus aureus (or “staph”), for example, may result in gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
There’s a possibility that the meat isn’t harboring these toxins at all. The problem is that there’s no way to be sure. Your only safe course of action is to discard the turkey if it’s been sitting out for too long.
The Bottom Line
There are definite benefits to cooking off a fresh turkey at home and using it to create sandwiches, soups and salads. But sliced deli turkey is a convenient option as well, especially if you only need a small amount.
Try to buy only as much pre-sliced turkey as you need for a day or two. If you’ve prepared your own turkey and find yourself with too many leftovers, freeze the meat as soon as possible so you can preserve it for a later date.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!