USDA Says Leaving Your Thanksgiving Turkey Out For More Than 2 Hours Is Dangerous

Thanksgiving is synonymous with food — lots of it. If you're hosting, there's nothing more satisfying than finally sitting down at the dinner table with loved ones to enjoy the meal you worked so hard to prepare all day. After feasting on the mains and the accouterments, the last thing you want to do is get up and carry out the post-dinner ritual of cleaning and refrigerating like a responsible adult, all while ignoring the turkey dinner coma. As much as you might hate it, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a good reason for you to not leave dinner on the table for hours.

According to USDA, leaving perishable food out at room temperature for a long time might not be the best idea, and that applies to your Thanksgiving turkey as well. There's a reason why they recommend keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, and it's not just about the taste.

Temperature makes all the difference

USDA warns that any food that has been left out in the open for longer than two hours should not be consumed. After the two-hour mark, perishable food left in temperatures between 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F allows for the bacteria to rapidly multiply and possibly double up within 20 minutes. Consuming such food can be risky. To avoid the "Danger Zone" temperature range, always refrigerate food after you're done eating. USDA recommends keeping hot food in chafing dishes, warming trays, slow cookers, or preheated steam tables to avoid bacterial growth while serving to large groups. As for cold food, they are best stored in containers over ice when not refrigerated.

You'll probably have leftovers after the big dinner, and we all love turkey leftover dishes. To preserve food for a long time and avoid foodborne illness, transfer in small and shallow containers and refrigerate to eat within four days. When stored in the freezer, frozen food is good to eat for up to six months.

Got more Thanksgiving food safety questions? You can reach out to USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or have a live chat at They will answer your queries from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.