How to Tell if Ground Turkey is Bad: 3 Signs

opening package of ground turkey

How many times have you bought groceries, forgot about them, and then had to decide if they were still good to eat? While the sell-by or expiration date is a useful guideline, it’s helpful to know the signs of when food is past its prime.

So how do you tell if ground turkey is bad? There are three key indicators: smell, texture, and color. 

3 Signs Ground Turkey is Bad

1. It Smells Sour

Fresh ground turkey has a subtle, almost neutral smell. If your ground turkey gives off a pungent odor, it’s gone bad. Typically, bad ground turkey will smell sour or sulfur-like. This is a sign of bacteria growth.

2. It Feels Slimy

mashing ground turkey to test texture

It’s okay for ground turkey to feel moist, but it should never feel sticky or slimy. If the outer layer is slimy to the touch, your ground turkey is bad. If you’re not sure, try breaking your ground turkey apart. It should be relatively easy to separate. 

3. It’s Not Light Pink

pink ground turkey

Ground turkey should be a pinkish color. It may turn grey or yellow when it’s bad. Sometimes the liquid in the package will also look discolored. Checking for a healthy pink color is essential when you’re picking out a package at the grocery store. While you can’t touch or smell packaged ground turkey, you can look for telltale discoloration.

Note that oxidation occurs when the meat is exposed to air. For example, if you open a package and don’t seal it well enough the raw meat will get darker. While meat should not look dull or yellow, it’s important to consider if discoloration is due to oxygen exposure.

How Long Ground Turkey Lasts

cooking ground turkey in pan

According to the USDA, here’s how long uncooked and cooked ground turkey lasts in the refrigerator and freezer. Remember, these are guidelines, so be sure to check for the signs above to determine if your ground turkey is bad.

Ground Turkey TypeShelf Life
Refrigerated, uncooked1-2 days
Refrigerated, cooked3-4 days
Frozen, cooked 2-3 months
Frozen, uncooked3-4 months

How Long Does Raw Ground Turkey Last in the Fridge?

Ground turkey lasts 1-2 days in the refrigerator. Sometimes I’ll cook it 3+ days after purchase as long as it doesn’t show any signs of discoloration, a rancid smell, or a slimy texture. If I don’t plan to cook ground turkey right away, I’ll store it in the freezer right when I get home from the grocery store.

How Long Does Cooked Ground Turkey Last in the Fridge?

cooked turkey in the fridge

According to the USDA, cooked ground turkey lasts 3-4 days.

When I meal prep, I’ll cook for 5+ days at a time, and the turkey-based meals are typically fine that long. Always be careful and use your judgment when deciding if you should eat cooked turkey past the fourth day.

How Long Does Ground Turkey Last in the Freezer?

It’s best to defrost and eat uncooked ground turkey in 3-4 months and use frozen cooked ground turkey in 2-3 months.

Food in the freezer lasts indefinitely, but the quality isn’t always the best, especially if it gets freezer burned. Freezer burn occurs when the frozen food comes into contact with air. Signs of freezer burn include ice crystals and discoloration. While burned food is still safe to eat, the taste and texture may be unappealing.

How to Choose the Right Type of Ground Turkey

Ground turkey is a mix of light and dark meat. Dark meat contains more fat (and more flavor). 

You can find ground turkey in a variety of lean-to-fat ratios. Keep in mind that while less fat means fewer calories and more protein, turkey with lower fat content is drier. To avoid dry lean meat, be careful not to overcook it and consider cooking it with a sauce. 

If you’re making a more substantial recipe, like meatballs, opt for a fattier mixture like 85/15 or 90/10.

Turkey’s recommended serving size is 4 ounces. Here are the macros and prices (in central San Diego) for 16-ounce packages of Jennie-O:

  • 99% lean/1% fat
    • Macros: 26.3 grams protein, 0 grams carbs, 1.5 grams fat
    • Calories: 121.5 
  • 93% lean/7% fat
    • Macros: 21 grams protein, 0 grams carbs, 8 grams fat
    • Calories: 170 
    • Price: $5.99
  • 90% lean/10% fat
    • Macros: 18 grams protein, 0 grams carbs, 12 grams fat
    • Calories: 190
    • Price: $4.49
  • 85% lean/15% fat
    • Macros: 17.2 grams protein, 0 grams carbs, 13.2 grams fat
    • Calories: 192
    • Price: $3.99

How to Store Ground Turkey

storing ground turkey in bottom of fridge

Keep ground turkey in the coldest part of the fridge. This is either the meat drawer or the bottom shelf towards the back of the refrigerator. Keeping meat on the bottom shelf also creates less clean-up if any juice drips.

If you open ground turkey but don’t use it all, make sure to wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or put it in an airtight bag or container. Opened raw turkey should be used within about 24 hours.

Cooked turkey should be stored in an airtight container.

How to Freeze Ground Turkey

When freezing turkey (or any item), you want to protect it from the air. You can put the store-bought container directly in an airtight plastic bag and store it in the freezer.

If you’re cooking for one and won’t eat the whole container at once, try portioning the turkey before you freeze it. You can measure out your desired portion, wrap it in saran wrap, and then place it in an airtight bag. Usually, multiple saran wrapped portions will fit in one bag. Make sure to squeeze out as much air as possible before you put the bag in the freezer.

Some people like to saran wrap the turkey and then wrap it in aluminum foil, but I find this creates more waste and isn’t as airtight.

Don’t forget to date the bags to remember when you need to use the frozen turkey by.

How to Defrost Ground Turkey

Defrosting ground turkey is very similar to defrosting chicken. There are 3 ways to do it.

  • Place in refrigerator overnight: This is the most hands-off approach. Simply move the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you want to use it. I like to do this at least 24 hours ahead of time.
  • Defrost in cool water: Place the airtight bag in a container of cool water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Your turkey should defrost in 1-2 hours.
  • Use the microwave: Use the defrost setting on your microwave. Be careful not to overheat the turkey and cook the outside.

Ground turkey should be cooked until it reaches an internal temperature of 165℉. Season and cook it with fajita veggies or prep it plain to eat with your over medium eggs. Whatever you decide, ground turkey is a delicious and high-protein choice. Just make sure you know how to tell if ground turkey is bad before you cook it, and toss it if you notice a smell, sticky texture, or discoloration.