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Turkey Left Out Overnight or Longer - Would YOU Eat It?

We spent Thanksgiving at my in-law's, with the usual spread prepared in the usual ways, and ate at about 3pm. Later that night, I noticed the turkey was still sitting on the stove, covered in foil. I asked my partner if we should put it in the fridge, since there was still a good bit of meat left on the bird, and she said no, they never do (all the sides were put in the fridge, just... not the bird). I was more than a little horrified by this, but simply resolved not to eat any of it myself. The next day, they all had more of the turkey (now having sat out at room temperature for ten hours or so), and no one seemed to suffer any ill effects from it. As of the time we left this morning (probably 9am today, Saturday), the bird was STILL sitting on the stove top, and my MIL was going to make it into turkey soup when she came home from work this afternoon. The idea of still wanting to eat meat that had been sitting out, unrefrigerated for 48 hours or so makes my stomach turn, and part of me can't believe that my partner thinks nothing of this, when she doesn't want to eat butter that's sat out long enough to soften.

So, is it just me who thinks this sounds disgusting?

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  1. I can totally relate to what you are saying. My in laws would do the exact same thing. I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole but I tend to err on the side of caution and probably toss a lot of things that others would eat. To me, the very idea of food poisoning or other gastric distress is just too off putting for me to take the chance.

    1. No way! My cousins leave all the food out for hours, and I just don't get it! I never go back & eat more after a couple of hours. Why take chances on getting GI problems!

      1. It may be a tad reckless, but hardly disgusting. It wasn't raw meat, which come loaded with bacteria and high water activity, but cooked, meaning it's clean (and eventually, super dry). If the kitchen is well-kept and everyone washed their hands, the odds of harm are low. Even at ideal conditions for bacteria, it would take them a few hours to grow and produce enough toxins for it to harm a person.

        The thing that bothers me is not the potential for poisoning, but that they would eat something so darn stale.

        1. You know, we've left cooked meat out overnight, but usually not any fowl, and have never had an issue. and i have had food poisoning/salmonella before - not from my home, ever - and would not wish that on anyone. but I've just never had a problem arise from leaving out a cooked roast pork or some steak.... i think we usually do put bird away, but i think i can see eating turkey (but not chicken, don't ask me why - no logic going on here!) if it's been out for like 8 hours, sure. I think even i would be grossed out/scared at 48 hours.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mariacarmen

            I am less bacteria phobic than anyone I know but I would not eat it after that length of time.

            1. re: magiesmom

              Agreed. I am phobic with raw meat, but usually ok with cooked. Unrefrigerated for 48 hours? If in doubt, throw it out.

          2. I don't know anyone who would eat this.

            2 Replies
            1. re: pikawicca

              count the jfoods out...no surprise

              1. re: jfood

                We're all toooooo predictable, aren't we?

            2. your partner's family are brave souls. i wouldn't touch it.

              1. There's some meats I would have no problem with after this time but I think it pays to be cautious with poultry. Overnight certainly no problem for me but not really any longer.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Harters

                  Agree. I'm just not that overly cautious. and having never gotten sick from my own cooking and/or habits does make me confident that i'm not playing "Russian Roulette"!

                2. I love the argument by people in this situation that they've "always done it" and not suffered. How many times do you spin the chamber on the bullet before you lose at Russian Roulette? Not a game I want to play, no matter how good your past odds have been, thanks.

                  4 Replies
                    1. re: rockandroller1

                      That implies that there's a bullet in the chamber.

                      For the sake of convenience (and practicality) I often make a large serving of something during the weekend to eat as part of lunch in the upcoming week. Since I don't freeze it, any guideline you go by will tell you that what I'm doing is extremely reckless. Is it? Not even close. In fact, since I control the food from purchase all the way to storage, it's a lot safer than buying something for lunch.

                      Every time you go out to drive there's a chance that you'll die because of some reckless driver. That can also be called Russian roulette, but it's silly to do so. This applies to everything in the world. In this case with the left out turkey, the odds of something happening are very low and the consequences aren't that dire. For something to happen to the turkey, a pathogen would have to pass from a person to the turkey in the early moments after it was cooked. It has to happen early because the outer parts are going to dry out and limit propagation. This pretty much means having someone at the table that came in contact with a pathogen, didn't washed hands and that person has to make significant contact with the turkey by either touching it directly or use an eating utensil on the turkey.

                      1. It isn't safe to eat cooked turkey left out more than two hours. I wouldn't eat it, even heated up to boiling. I would not eat any cooked meat left out longer than two hours.

                        1. I recently shadowed a county food inspector on her rounds. This was a serious heads-up on food safety. There are many bacteria that are killed by cooking that produce nasty toxins that are not killed by cooking. Food safety information from the government should be followed, IMO.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: pikawicca

                            >>"There are many bacteria that are killed by cooking that produce nasty toxins that are not killed by cooking. "<<

                            Well, not really. There are a few, staphylococcus aureus most notable among them, but they have to come from somewhere. If they were in or on the turkey before roasting, then any toxins released before they were killed in the cooking process were present when the bird first came out of the oven. So letting it sit out afterward didn't increase the risk at all.

                            The real question is whether there was a new source of contamination introduced after the bird had a chance to cool. Very few pathogens are airborne, so that's not much of a risk. If somebody handled the carcass with unwashed hands, they certainly introduced a possible source of illness. But again, the vast majority of any pathogens that might be introduced will be killed by reheating.

                            I'd be reluctant to eat turkey sandwiches from a carcass that sat out all day, but I wouldn't hesitate to eat soup made from it. But that's just me...

                            Food safety regulations are intended to apply to commercial kitchens. And while you'll be safest if you follow them in other situations, they're really overkill at home.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              From foodsafety.gov:

                              * Bacteria spread fastest at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, so chilling food safely reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Discard any turkey, stuffing, and gravy left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Divide leftovers into smaller portions. Refrigerate or freeze in covered shallow containers for quicker cooling.
                              * Use refrigerated turkey, stuffing, and gravy within 3 to 4 days or freeze it. Use frozen turkey and stuffing leftovers within 2 to 6 months for best quality. Reheat to 165 °F or until hot and steaming. Gravy should come to a rolling boil.

                              1. re: Anita Nap

                                Yes, the government also makes recommendations for home cooking. But pikawicca's point had to do with a county food inspector. And at least in the county where I live, the inspectors don't come around to residential kitchens.

                                As far as the recommendations themselves, they certainly describe safest practices. When feeding people who are very old, very young, or immunocompromised, safest practices make a lot of sense. And if people were handling my food who couldn't be relied upon to avoid cross-contamination or wash their hands after using the restroom, I'd certainly want stringent controls in place.

                                But food safety is microbiology, not magic; there's no harm in using common sense. If you followed every governmental food safety recommendation, you'd never eat another over-easy egg, and you'd certainly never have a medium-rare burger. You may choose to avoid those things in any event; that's your prerogative. But as for hysterical claims that eating turkey that's been sitting out for two hours and one minute is a virtual death sentence? That's just nonsense.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  oh yeah...in my magic house that would be 2 hours and 1 second. :-))

                                  whatever works for people is OK with me. I am fine with over easy eggs, medium rare burgers, but turkey over night, nah. to each their own.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    >>"To each their own."<<

                                    And that, my friend, is the key. Some here are not only saying that they wouldn't eat sandwiches from a turkey that sat overnight, but also casting aspersions at those who would. Yes, the risks are greater than if the bird went promptly into the fridge, but someone who's willing to take those risks isn't necessarily stupid.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      poe-tay-toe, poe-tah-toe, vi- shee-swahs

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        You say "kar-mee-nah," I say "kar-mye-nah." Let's Carl the whole thing Orff.

                                      2. re: alanbarnes

                                        Whew, at least one person is pointing out one example of my not being stupid. Another reason you're one of my heroes.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          "Some here are not only saying that they wouldn't eat sandwiches from a turkey that sat overnight, but also casting aspersions at those who would."

                                          and again, AB, thank you.

                                        2. re: jfood

                                          Gotta agree with jfood here. The other day at work they overbought on sausage and cheese kolaches for breakfast, and of course no one put them in the fridge so they were left out a good 24 hours. The morning crew the next day dispatched them immediately, and nobody has died, yet. I wouldn't touch them if you paid me.

                                2. This particular nasty struck a local retirement community dining room a year or so ago. It grew in a casserole held at an improper temperature, after having been cooked properly.


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    I've weighed in on the how long to leave food in the fridge topic before... Nope, not for me. I'm just not willing to take the chance to get sick or make anyone in the family sick. I have an uncle with a compromised immune system, and a son who's "in the business" so maybe I'm hyper-sensitive, but I toss uncooked leftovers after three days, and I never let food sit out.

                                  2. I had cooked the turkey the day before and taken the meat from the bird and put it in sealed bags and left it on the counter to cool before I was going to refrigerate it. I had to go out and forgot it until the am. I then put it in the fridge. I am hoping it is okay as it was cooked, off the bones and in closed storage bags.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: sndsandy

                                      The fact that it was "cooked, off the bone and in closed storage bags" means absolutely NOTHING. None of those things have any bearing whatsoever on the safety of that turkey. You should throw it out.

                                      While I'm frequently cavalier about certain things sitting out for several hours longer than they should, hot or warm turkey meat, on or off the bone, put into plastic bags & left out to "stew" until the following morning is much more risk than I'd be willing to take.

                                      Turkey isn't all that expensive. Buy another one.

                                        1. re: Bacardi1

                                          After recently have suffered from one of those horrific bacteria that (most likely) come from raw/under cooked contaminated poultry. However, I'm curious what kinds of bacteria or other germs that we're talking about with cooked poultry?

                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              I'm not an expert on this (aside from my own recent case), but from my reading that bacteria has the ability to survive the cooking process. So whether eaten ten minutes out of the oven or ten hours, people could have gotten sick.

                                      1. I would eat it that evening but not the next day. I have had food poisoning TOO many times.

                                        1. Recently (last two years), I stopped refrigerating leftover roast chicken. I don't like the smell of refrigerated, cooked chicken, to the point where I wouldn't eat it if it was cold, and would instead go directly to making stock.

                                          I know all about the "danger zone" but I've never gotten sick in any way from eating left-out leftover chicken, nor from the stock I make from it.

                                          I've never done it with turkey, but only because I never make turkey.

                                          So, to answer your question, YES, I probably would eat it.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Jay F

                                            Do you ever encounter any type of insect in your home?

                                          2. I run a local health department and am up to date on food safety issues, and agree that home kitchens need not do everything required of commercial ones. At the same time, some of the posts here are based on ignorance. Once cooked anything is exposed to bacteria in the environment. A turkey that has been served has also been exposed to all those who touched or sneezed on it -- some common nasty GI diseases are very readily spread in this way, and your guests may be contagious but not yet sick. None of these are going to get you every time, or even half the time. But if you do this every year you just need to ask yourself if you want to be remembered in your family as the one who made everyone so sick.Those who feel immune are kidding themselves.

                                            In commercial settings they are (at least in this state) allowed to keep adequately cooked meats (for poultry, cooked to internal temp of 165F or higher) at room temp for up to 4 hours but then must discard it. That's not a bad guideline for home, though you could stretch it a bit. 48 hours is asking for trouble.

                                            One other point. I agree that life cannot be risk free. In fact, some of my best experiences have involved interesting risks. But the risk was balanced by some benefit like a good experience. Letting food sit out for hours is not interesting, just lazy. Put it in the fridge, or out in the garage if it's cold and your fridge is full. Or cut the meat off the carcass and bag it -- any fridge has room for that. It's one think to savor risky but valuable experiences. It's another thing to get sick from laziness or ignorance.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: bkling

                                              I just want to clarify something - this bacteria/viruses that we're talking about regarding cooked poultry sitting out having nothing to do with this being poultry. Rather this has to do with grandma not washing her hands after she blew her nose, or some other contagion that resulted from coming in contact with a 'germ' mostly likely assisted by a human.

                                              Is there something specific to cooked poultry (or meat in general) that is more capable of retaining such a disease or if the potatoes gratin stay out for a similarly long period of time are they at equal risk for such germs?

                                              I'm asking because I recently recovered from one of the "most likely infected raw or undercooked poultry" bacterias - and just want to clarify what kind of illnesses we're talking about.

                                              1. re: cresyd

                                                "Is there something specific to cooked poultry (or meat in general) that is more capable of retaining such a disease or if the potatoes gratin stay out for a similarly long period of time are they at equal risk for such germs?"
                                                Both have risks. Offhand, I would actually feel *a little* safer with cooked poultry left out 12 hours than potatoes gratin. Even though the poultry is far more dangerous raw, once cooked the potatoes gratin would tend to serve as a better host for a wider range of bacteria given their moisture.

                                                On raw or undercooked poultry, campylobacter and salmonella are especially common, but quite a few bacteria are possible, including clostridium perfringes (which is more difficult to fully kill with cooking) and e. coli (not the strain that you hear about killing people, but still able to make you sick). Once cooked, the same bacteria can be reintroduced, tiny traces of unkilled bacteria might survive the cooking, or new bacteria can be introduced. It is extremely difficult to identify which bacteria actually made you sick unless you went to a hospital for testing.

                                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                                  Thank you for this reply. I've recently recovered from campylobacter - and even as a reasonably healthy adult would not wish that on myself again or anyone else. (As I don't cook meat at home, this is most likely from eating out - but still)

                                                  In general I am not a germaphobe, but also am not remotely interested in a repeat case of that kind of bacterial infection. So when we're talking about food being left out and attracting "germs" - I just wanted to get a better idea of exactly what germs we were talking about.

                                            2. I think it sounds a little gross as it would probably be dry. For me, about 12-18 hours is the cut off for decent quality. I don't think using it for a broth sounds bad if no meat is in the final product.

                                              I am the least germphobic person I know, apparently more than all the other posters. I think if you have a strong immune system, you are fine. This antibacterial culture has gone the other way into unhealthy. Still, 48 hours is a long time. I have definitely ingested many things going far beyond government regulations and have never gotten sick from home cooking. I also never get colds, the flu, etc. Immune compromised people should definitely stay away from such things.

                                              Reminds me of open air markets with raw meat sitting out in the sun all day. This may be incredibly unscientific, but maybe your body adjusts. It could be similar to the phenomenon of natives frequently eating questionable foods like street food and only foreigners get sick from it?

                                              Interesting post and replies.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: briannajane67

                                                "I am the least germphobic person I know, apparently more than all the other posters. I think if you have a strong immune system, you are fine. This antibacterial culture has gone the other way into unhealthy."

                                                Food borne illnesses are among the fastest growing causes of illness in the U.S. It's not phobic to avoid them, particularly when one considers how disproportionately those likely to die from some of them are children. Neither a healthy immune system more many of our most powerful antibiotics are able to fend them off.

                                                Better to be alive than smugly self assured.

                                                1. re: mcf

                                                  The point that briannajane67 makes, and with which I agree, is that Americans may well be *causing* the increase in foodborne illness by being overly germ-averse. Just like the suspicion of many researchers that the increase in food allergies is because of over-cleanliness. The immune system needs to get challenged in order to function properly. We need to encounter some germs, from childhood on, in order to develop resistance. Keep a child's environment too clean, and his immune system may turn on him, in the form of allergies/sensitivities or worse, auto-immune diseases like lupus,

                                                  An individual who eats slimy coldcuts or the like now and then might have the runs the first time, but the exposure triggers development of immunity so there's no problem in the future. Fear of spoiled food is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you routinely avoid eating things that have sat out for hours, then do it, you'd likely get sick. The family that is used to eating unrefrigerated meat does not. Most of the world's population lives without access to refrigeration. My mother, who was born over a century ago, recalled that her childhood home in Europe had no icebox. Leftover meat (a rarity as meat was a luxury) was kept in the coolest spot in the apartment. If it got slimy, it was rinsed off before reheating and consuming. Anything farther gone than that was made into soup. No way such an expensive item would be thrown away.

                                                  1. re: greygarious

                                                    Not at all. The reason for so many infections is the conditions big agribusiness raises animals in that lead to disease and the fact that for decades, we've been dumping 80% of our manufactured antibiotics into their feed and spraying them on produce. That combination increases infection rates *and* bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Scientists have predicted this problem based upon agricultural use since at least the early 80s. I don't think that was a problem in Europe back before refrigeration.

                                                    Our immune systems aren't made to fight the superbugs these conditions create and no amount of living in filth is going to make us healthier. Plus, it's ridiculous to think that living in clean conditions keeps you free of zillions of bugs that live even in the cleanest homes every day, and from other environmental germs every time you venture out anywhere.

                                                    So while I agree that use of antibacterial wipes and soaps is dumb and pointless when simple washing and wiping suffices, it's not the issue.

                                              2. I sure wouldn't chance it. Fowl spoils easily.

                                                1. We all know the Gvt. recommendations are way on the conservative side. I doubt most of us would throw it out after 4 hours much less 2, but I'm not about to argue with someone who feels thats what should be done. For food coming out of a clean kitchen (and believe me, LOTS of people don't keep their kitchens all that clean) 4 or even 8 hours doesn't scare me much. At 12 hours I'm gonna be thinking twice, and at 24 hours I'm gonna be saying no thank you.

                                                  People talk about food not being refrigerated in the old days. Well the great aunt of a good friend used to do that. She lived in an 1880s farmhouse, durning the winter the temperature was usually in the upper 30s, and her kitchen wasn't heated overnight. In essence the whole room was a refigerator.

                                                  1. When I make meat intended to be eaten over several days I cut it into hunks put them in Tupperware and then nuke the portion intended to be eaten now, it's really not all that much trouble.

                                                    I wouldn't eat the turkey in question and I'll eat anything, lots of roaches in Florida and the pesticide company can't get them all.