Patient Guide

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Precooked Meal Safety Tips

If you buy a precooked turkey dinner, ask questions so you know what you will be getting and take proper safety precautions if transporting the meal before eating it.

To be completely safe, keep food below 40°F or above 140°F. Bacteria that can make you sick multiply fastest between 40°F and 140°F.

Food safety experts recommend that if you buy a precooked turkey, the stuffing should be cooked separately outside the turkey. It is advised to not buy stuffed turkeys.

Hot Precooked Meals

It is important to pick up the meal HOT and keep it HOT. Pick up the hot dinner just before it is to be eaten. Drive directly home and put the turkey, stuffing, and side dishes in an oven preheated to 200°F to 250°F to keep the internal temperature of the turkey and all side dishes at 140°F or above (use a meat thermometer). Covering food with foil will keep the food moist. To be safe, eat within two hours after picking up your hot dinner.

Refrigerate precooked meals if you will not be eating a hot meal within two hours.

If you must pick up the turkey the day before, or more than two hours before it is to be eaten, or you must drive a long distance from pickup to the dinner table, do the following:

  • Remove all stuffing from the turkey cavity immediately and refrigerate it in shallow containers. 
  • Carve the meat from the bone and refrigerate it. Slice the breast meat. Legs and wings may be left whole. Refrigerate the meat no greater than two inches deep in shallow containers. When cold, cover the container.
  • Refrigerate potatoes, gravy, and vegetables separately in shallow containers. When cold, cover the containers.
  •  Do not eat precooked turkey meat cold if you are immunosuppressed. Reheat the sliced turkey thoroughly to 165°F until steaming hot (add a little broth to keep the meat moist). Reheat the stuffing to an internal temperature of 165°F.  
  • If using a microwave oven, cover food and rotate dish so it heats evenly. Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instructions. 
  • Bring gravy to a rolling boil. 

Frozen Precooked Turkey with Side Dishes

Look for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or state inspection seal on the packaging. These seals indicate that the turkey was prepared under controlled conditions at a USDA or state-inspected facility. Read and follow package directions for thawing, reheating, and storing.

If there are no directions, follow these steps:

  • Thaw the wrapped, precooked frozen turkey on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow at least 24 hours for thawing time for every five pounds of turkey.
  • Small packages such as stuffing, gravy, or potatoes will thaw in less time. Side dishes can go from freezer to oven. 
  • Follow the package instructions to reheat the thawed turkey.
  • Eat the reheated meat and stuffing within three to four days (gravy within one to two days).

Frozen Precooked Turkey with Side Dishes

Look for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or state inspection seal on the packaging. These seals indicate that the turkey was prepared under controlled conditions at a USDA or state-inspected facility. Read and follow package directions for thawing, reheating, and storing.

If there are no directions, follow these steps:

  • Thaw the wrapped, precooked frozen turkey on a tray in the refrigerator. Allow at least 24 hours for thawing time for every five pounds of turkey.
  • Small packages such as stuffing, gravy, or potatoes will thaw in less time. Side dishes can go from freezer to oven. 
  • Follow the package instructions to reheat the thawed turkey.
  • Eat the reheated meat and stuffing within three to four days (gravy within one to two days). 

Storing Leftovers

Perishable foods (both hot and cold items) should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly in shallow containers. It is safe to refreeze leftover turkey and trimmings, even if you purchased them frozen. Wrap tightly for best quality.

Storage Times for Leftovers

Refrigerator (40°F or slightly below)  
Cooked Turkey and stuffing 2 to 3 days
Gravy 1 to 2 days
Other Cooked Dishes 2 to 3 days

 

Freezer (0 °F or below)                                         
Turkey slices/pieces, plain 4 months
Turkey covered with broth/gravy 6 months
Cooked poultry dishes 2 to 3 months
Stuffing and gravy 2 to 3 months

 

(Foods frozen for a longer period remain safe, but may become dry and lose flavor.)

More Information

 

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hot Line

 

www.fsis.usda.gov 
(888) 674-6854
TTY: (800) 256-7072.
Open 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays year-round; 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., Thanksgiving Day; Closed Christmas Day; Automated service is available 24 hours a day, and is available in Spanish. 
 

This information is intended to be given as part of a nutrition consult by a registered dietitian. For information about how to schedule a nutrition consultation, please call Medical Nutrition Therapy Services at (206) 288-1148.