Can You Eat Leftover Turkey If You're Pregnant? Yes, But With Extra Caution

by Yvette Manes

I can't be the only one who thinks that Thanksgiving turkey tastes even better the following day, right? Although I prefer my turkey warm, I know my family loves making cold turkey sandwiches with the Thanksgiving leftovers. I was having this discussion with a friend of mine who is currently expecting, and she asked me a question that had me stumped: can you eat leftover turkey if you're pregnant? It turns out that there are quite a few holiday meals that raise red flags when you have a bun in the oven.

The main concern that doctor's have is the proper handling and cooking of food. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) noted that there is a big risk of salmonella infection from eating improperly cooked turkey and stuffing. But, even if everything was done correctly from the market to the table, foods that are surrounded by many people and touched by many hands are exposed to germs and bacteria.

When it comes to holiday meals, families usually sit around the table chatting for a while, and then much of what hasn't been eaten sits out at room temperature for far longer than recommended. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warned to discard any turkey, stuffing, or gravy left out at room temperature longer than two hours – one hour if you are in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

So how does this specifically affect pregnant women?

The USDA's website notes that most people can eat leftover Thanksgiving turkey — cold or reheated — as long as it was properly handled, cooked, and refrigerated. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that because your immune system is weakened during pregnancy, it is harder for your body to fight off harmful microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. This means you should use extra caution and always reheat your leftover turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The experts at Best Food Facts recommended using the 2-4-4 rule for storing your Thanksgiving leftovers:

  • 2 hours: Refrigerate or freeze food within two hours of cooking. Bacteria in food left out for more than two hours double in number every 20 minutes.
  • 2 inches: To prevent bacteria growth, food needs to be cooled quickly and evenly. Store leftovers in shallow containers that are around two inches deep which will cool faster than deep containers.
  • 4 days: Eat leftovers within four days and make sure you reheat everything to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating.

If you follow these rules, you can still enjoy the benefits of Thanksgiving leftovers without harming you or your baby.