With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s time to figure out how we’re going to prepare the traditional turkey feast. But at the end of it all, it’s even more crucial to think about what you’re going to do with the leftovers you’ll undoubtedly have to store. Of course, you can place leftover turkey breast in the freezer, but how long with it last?
Cooked turkey breast can remain edible when stored in a freezer for up to 6 months, whereas raw turkey breast can be defrosted and cooked for up to 9 months in the freezer. However, you should consider thawing and eating frozen turkey meat as soon as possible to enjoy it at its freshest.
In this guide, I’ll explain how to best store turkey meat, how to defrost turkey meat, and how to tell whether or not your frozen turkey is expired.
How Long Can Turkey Breast Last in the Freezer?
Like all good things, turkey has an expiration date. However, like most foods, you can extend the shelf life of your turkey by stuffing it in the freezer. In fact, doing so can extend the edibility of the meat for many, many months. But how many months is that?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the lifespan of frozen turkey depends on how it was processed prior to freezing.
- Raw whole turkey—12 months
- Raw turkey cuts—9 months
- Cooked turkey (whole or cuts)—6 months
How Long Does Turkey Last in the Refrigerator?
Another method of keeping warding off spoilage is by placing food, such as turkey breasts, inside a fridge. The upside of doing this is that you don’t have to wait nearly as long for your turkey to defrost. Simply pop it in the microwave, the oven, or on a frying pan and let it come up to temperature (180°F for the thighs and 170°F for the breasts).
However, the downside is that your turkey won’t last nearly as long in the refrigerator. Per the USDA, you should finish your cooked turkey leftovers within 3 to 4 days. Any longer and the meat might be too tough or could have been overcome by foodborne pathogens.
How to Store Turkey Breasts in the Freezer
Storing turkey breast is not unlike storing any other cut of protein in the freezer. As long as you have an airtight container and enough space in the back of the freezer, the meat should remain edible for up to 9 months, depending on whether it was cooked prior or not.
However, there are a few key things you should do before popping turkey breasts in the freezer. Let’s see what they are.
- Wash your hands with hot water for 20 seconds before laying a finger on turkey meat. The more you handle the meat with bare hands, the more bacteria you introduce to it, and the faster it can rot. Alternatively, you can put on a pair of food service gloves to prevent the spreading of germs, though you should still wash your hands—it’s good practice.
- Wrap the turkey meat in freezer paper. Freezer paper looks and feels like parchment paper, but it’s considerably thicker and has a shiny wax or plastic coating. The coating locks in moisture, so your food, so when you’re ready to dine, you don’t have to worry too much about feasting on dry turkey breast (the worst thing in the world). When wrapping food in freezer paper, make sure the shiny side is touching the meat, and the matte side is facing outward.
- Mark the date on the freezer paper. Before placing leftover meat in the freezer, make sure you mark the date on its wrapper. That way, you’ll know whether or not the meat is still good when you come across it sometime in the future. Remember—raw turkey breasts are good for nine months in the freezer, and cooked turkey breasts are good for 6 months at most.
- Place the wrapped turkey meat in an airtight container. The lids prevent air and ambient moisture in the freezer from entering the container and getting all over the leftover meat. Plus, it locks the odors from nearby food from penetrating the surface of your turkey breasts, so it shouldn’t have a strange taste when you dig in.
- Place the airtight container as deep in your freezer as you can. Usually, the deepest parts of your freezer are the coldest. The parts closer to the freezer door are exposed to greater amounts of heat every time you swing the door open.
How to Defrost Turkey Breasts
When you’re ready to dig into the leftover turkey breasts from who knows how many months ago, you can defrost the meat in the refrigerator or in a microwave.
To defrost turkey breasts in the fridge, simply move it from the freezer to the middle rack of your refrigerator. Let it sit in your fridge for 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat. After the meat has defrosted, the 36 to 48-hour timer starts before the meat will begin showing signs of spoilage.
If you want to dine on leftover turkey breasts sooner, then defrosting them in your microwave is the better option. Follow the microwave’s instructions on defrosting meat. Sometimes, it can take up to 20 minutes to defrost 5 pounds of frozen turkey breasts, but it will depend on your microwave and how powerful the defrost setting is.
How to Tell Whether Turkey Breast Is Spoiled
- Discoloration—If the turkey breast takes on a different color, then it’s time to toss it away. Bluish-green and black spots are clear signs that your turkey is infested with mold.
- Foul stench—When you remove the lid of your airtight container, you shouldn’t smell anything except for a slight whiff of turkey meat. If it smells even the tiniest bit sour, then the meat is no good, and you have to throw it away.
- Slimy texture—If the turkey meat develops a slimy or slippery coating, that means bacteria has overtaken the meat and that it’s time to toss it in the garbage.