How to Tell if a Turkey is Bad (And Tips to Keep Yours Fresh!)

You’ve pulled your turkey out of the fridge, and it looks a little funny. Could the turkey have possibly gone bad? How do you tell if a turkey is bad?

Let’s dig in!

In this guide, you will learn:

  • How to tell if a turkey is bad
  • How long you can expect a turkey to stay fresh
  • Why a turkey might go bad
  • And much more!

NOTE: This article was reviewed by Melissa Macher, Registered Dietician and Food Scientist for safety and accuracy.

Turkey Going Bad

Turkey, like most other meats, does go bad after some time. Especially if you leave the turkey in your freezer, or worse, your fridge, for an extended period of time. Do you know how to tell if a turkey has gone bad?

You will know that your turkey has gone bad when it begins to turn grayish brown or grows mold. It may also give off a rancid odor or be slimy to the touch. 

Once meat like turkey has gone bad, there is nothing you can do besides throw it out because it will likely make you sick. This is why you should take as many steps as possible to keep your turkey fresh and consume it by the best by date. 

Read on to learn more about how to tell if the turkey is bad, as well as what to do to keep your turkey fresh. 

How to Tell if a Turkey is Bad (3 Easy Steps)

It’s usually quite easy to tell if your turkey has gone bad, but if you are in doubt, follow these three steps. 

Step 1: Visual Inspection

Remove your turkey from the fridge and look at it somewhere where there is plenty of light. Does the color look normal? Or does it look a bit gray or brown? If the turkey looks off to you, it is probably bad. 

Also, if there is any sign of mold, this is a sure sign that your turkey is bad. 

Step 2: Smell Inspection

Just because the turkey looks okay doesn’t mean it is good. You also need to perform the smell test. Open the bag or package the turkey is in and take a whiff. If you smell anything rancid or rotten then your turkey has gone bad. 

Turkeys may also smell sour or sickly sweet when they go bad, so basically, if you smell anything other than raw turkey, toss it out. 

Step 3: Touch Test

If you haven’t decided whether or not your turkey is bad yet, there is one final test. Take your finger and touch the turkey. If it feels slimy, sticky, or dry, then it has gone bad. Throw the turkey away immediately and wash your hands! 

If your turkey seems bad based on any one of these steps, then it is better to throw it away. Turkeys carry lots of foodborne illnesses, so it is better to be safe than sorry. 

an uncooked turkey with hock lock on the legsbrining in a bucket in the kitchen sink.

How to Keep a Turkey Fresh

For as delicious and healthy as turkey is, it really is one of the more volatile meats. When you buy it fresh, it will typically only stay good for a day or two. Therefore if you need to keep your turkey longer, it is advisable to put it in the freezer or buy a frozen turkey to begin with. . 

When you put your turkey in either spot, ensure it is pushed back away from the opening of the fridge or freezer. This way the meat doesn’t warm every time the door is opened. 

If you live in an area where you are able to get turkey directly from the farm, this is good news for you as a farm-fresh turkey will stay good in your fridge slightly longer. This is because you have cut out the middle man (the store) and know exactly when your turkey was butchered.

How Long Will a Turkey Stay Fresh?

How long a turkey will stay fresh depends on where and when you buy it, as well as how you store it. 

Fresh From the Store

When you purchase a fresh turkey from the store, it needs to be eaten or frozen within 1-2 days to stay fresh. 

Frozen From the Store

Frozen turkeys purchased from the store will stay good in your freezer for up to one year. But once you put it in your fridge to defrost, it follows the same rules as a fresh store-bought turkey, and it must be frozen again or consumed within 1-2 days. 

Fresh From a Farm

Buying a fresh turkey from the farm, if you are lucky enough to do so, is best, as they will let you know the day the turkey was butchered. You have approximately 10 days from this day to consume your fresh turkey or put it in the freezer.

Frozen From a Farm

Many farms flash freeze their turkeys. These turkeys are the same as store-bought frozen ones and will last up to one year in your freezer.

Why Did My Turkey Go Bad?

Maybe you opened the fridge within the two days of purchase to find your turkey already rancid. What happened?

Well, turkeys can sometimes go bad if they are not wrapped well enough, so if you are ever in doubt, put your turkey in a brining bag before you put it in the fridge to protect it from spoilage. 

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05/25/2024 06:37 am GMT

Also, check your fridge, as it may not be set to the right temperature. Your fridge should be set to 37°F, otherwise, you run the risk of items besides just your turkey going bad. 

Sadly, when you live in a house with young children, sometimes small hands can open the fridge looking for a snack…multiple times per day. This repeated opening and closing of the fridge can cause the temperature to rise even if it is set low enough and can cause your turkey to go bad. 

You should check the date on your turkey as well. You may have inadvertently bought one which was past date (maybe that’s why it was on sale), and this can also cause the turkey to go bad. 

No matter what happened, cut your losses and toss the turkey out. It isn’t worth making your family sick!

Tips for Keeping Your Turkey Fresh

Below are some of our tips for keeping your turkey as fresh as possible. 

1. Buy Your Turkey Only When You Need It

The best way to keep your turkey fresh is to only buy it a day or two before you need it. This will give you just enough time to defrost it without having to worry about it going bad. 

2. Keep Your Turkey In the Freezer

As mentioned above, keeping your turkey in the freezer when you aren’t cooking it within the next couple of days is the best way to keep it fresh. And when you are defrosting your turkey, if you’ve got a fridge that is opened frequently, it may help to use a different method, like the cooler defrosting method, so the turkey can defrost without being disturbed by kids looking for snacks. 

You could also defrost the turkey in your spare fridge if you have one! 

3. Check Your Fridge and Freezer Temps

The last thing you want is for your turkey to go bad because your fridge or freezer is too warm. Check the temperature of both. Your freezer should be at 0°F and your fridge at 37°F.

4. Keep the Turkey in the Back of the Fridge

Our final tip is to keep your turkey in the back of the fridge or freezer when you store it. This is the best way to minimize the turkey meat heating up if the door is opened. We also recommend keeping the turkey covered in either its original packaging or a turkey bag to lower its exposure to the air. 

Final Thoughts on How to Tell if a Turkey is Bad

Overall, there are several different ways to tell if a turkey is bad. Whether you look at, smell it, or feel yours, if there is any indication your turkey is bad, it should be thrown out. To avoid having to throw away a whole turkey in the future, it’s important that you know how to keep your turkey fresh from the moment you buy it. 

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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