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How to Tell if turkey is Bad? [ 9 Signs & Storage Tips]

How to Tell if turkey is Bad

Knowing how to tell if turkey has gone bad is an important skill to have. turkey can be a nutritious part of a healthy diet, but only when it’s fresh. Once turkey starts to spoil, it can cause foodborne illness.

So how can you tell if the turkey in your fridge or freezer has gone past its prime? This guide will go over the signs of fresh vs bad turkey, what causes it to spoil, how to tell if whole turkeys or parts are still ok to eat, proper storage methods, shelf life, and whether it’s ever safe to eat turkey that smells or looks off.

We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about spoiled turkey at the end. Read on for an in-depth look at how to tell if your turkey is bad or still perfectly fresh.

Signs of a Fresh turkey

Fresh turkey

When turkey is freshly purchased or thawed, look for these signs to determine if it’s still good:

  • Color – Fresh raw turkey should be pink, white or pale brown. Dark spots or greenish areas indicate spoiling.
  • Smell – Raw turkey has a very mild odor. Rancid or foul odors mean the turkey has spoiled.
  • Expiration date – Check the sell-by or use-by date on the packaging.
  • Texture – Fresh turkey flesh should be firm. Soft, sticky or slimy flesh shows spoilage.
  • Packaging – The packaging should be intact with no tears or leaks.

Following proper storage and thawing methods will help keep your turkey fresh as long as possible.

What Causes turkeys to Go Bad?

There are a few main factors that lead to turkey spoiling:

  • Bacteria – Foodborne pathogens like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli naturally occur in raw turkey. When stored improperly, these bacteria multiply rapidly, causing off smells, textures, and illness.
  • Freezer Burn – When turkey is frozen, ice crystals can form in the meat. They damage cell walls, leading to dryness and off flavors.
  • Improper Handling – Allowing turkey to sit in the “danger zone” temperature between 40-140°F causes bacteria to thrive.
  • Improper Thawing – Thawing turkey on the counter or in hot water enables microbial growth in the outer layers while the center stays frozen.
  • Cross-Contamination – Bacteria from raw turkey can transfer to objects like counters, utensils, and hands. Proper cleaning is required to avoid spreading.
  • Long Storage Times – Even properly frozen, turkey will degrade in quality over many months in the freezer due to oxidation.

To maximize freshness, store turkey at 40°F or below, avoid the danger zone when thawing and cooking, and follow food safety practices.

9 Signs That Your Turkey Is Bad

How to Tell if an turkey Is Bad or Spoiled? Trust your senses when determining if raw turkey has gone bad:

Checking the Smell

One of the first things to check with any meat is the smell. Fresh turkey should have a mild odor. As the turkey starts to spoil, it will develop a stronger, more unpleasant smell.

1. Raw Turkey Smell

Raw turkey that has gone bad will have a very distinctive, pungent odor. Some describe it as a sour, sickly sweet or ammonia-like smell. If your frozen turkey smells odd while still mostly frozen, that is a sign that bacteria growth has already started.

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2. Cooked Turkey Smell

Cooked turkey that is rotten will also have an unpleasant odor. It will typically smell sour or sulfurous. The smell may remind you of eggs. Leftover cooked turkey should not have a strong odor.

Trust your nose – if the turkey smells bad, it likely has spoiled and should not be eaten.

Checking the Color

The color of the turkey can also indicate spoilage. Here is what to look for:

3. Raw Turkey Color

  • Fresh raw turkey is pink, pale pink or grey with a white fat cap.
  • As it starts to spoil, the color fades to grey or green. The fat cap may become more yellow.
  • Green, blue, purple or black splotches indicate the growth of mold and bacteria. Do not eat turkey with these colors.
Turkey Color Fresh or Spoiled?
Pink, pale pink or grey Fresh
Fading color, yellow fat cap Early spoilage
Green, blue, purple, black Spoiled – do not eat

4. Cooked Turkey Color

  • Cooked fresh turkey will be white or light brown.
  • As it spoils, the color fades to grey or green.
  • Grey, green or black areas indicate mold growth and spoilage.

Do not eat turkey that has green, blue, black or other discolored areas.

Checking the Texture

The texture of the turkey can reveal spoilage:

5. Raw Turkey Texture

  • Fresh raw turkey is smooth and soft to the touch.
  • As it starts to spoil, the texture becomes sticky or slimy.
  • Slime on raw turkey is a sign of bacterial growth. Do not eat turkey with a slimy texture.

6. Cooked Turkey Texture

  • Fresh cooked turkey is firm and tender.
  • Spoiled cooked turkey will feel mushy, slimy or tacky.

Do not eat turkey with an abnormal, mushy or slimy texture.

7. Checking the Sell-By Date

Always check the sell-by or use-by date on fresh turkey packaging. This will give you a good indication of how long the turkey will stay fresh.

  • Turkey can be safely stored 1-2 days past the sell-by date, but quality will start to decline.
  • Do not purchase turkey with a sell-by date that has already passed.
  • For frozen turkey, check the expiration or best-by date. Frozen turkey lasts 1 year past the sell-by date if properly stored.

Do not use turkey that has passed its expiration date – this can make you sick.

8. Checking for Visual Signs of Spoilage

There are certain visual signs that indicate your turkey has spoiled:

  • Sliminess or sticky fluid on the outside.
  • Discolored or slimy flesh when cutting into the turkey.
  • Graying or dull, faded skin. Skin that has started to look yellow or green.
  • Rough, dry patches on the skin. This indicates the turkey was frozen/thawed several times.
  • An unusual ridge or bulge in the wrapping, which could indicate air got inside and bacteria grew.
  • Signs of freezer burn like discolored patches or ice crystals.

The presence of any of these visual signs means you should not eat the turkey.

9. Checking the Giblets

If your turkey came with giblets inside the cavity, check them carefully for spoilage:

  • The giblets should look fresh with no discoloration.
  • They should have no foul odor.
  • Do not use giblets that are slimy, green or foul-smelling.

Spoiled giblets can be a sign that bacteria spread inside the whole turkey. When in doubt, throw them out.

Other Potential Signs of Spoilage

Here are a few other things that may indicate your turkey is past its prime:

  • Bulging or leaking packaging – this allows bacteria to grow.
  • Condensation inside the turkey packaging – this creates conditions for bacteria to thrive.
  • Spots of blood on the turkey parts – this means the meat was not handled properly.
  • A turkey neck or cavity that feels very loose – the turkey may have been poorly butchered or handled roughly.

Any of these scenarios increases the likelihood your turkey has spoiled. Use good judgement when determining if your turkey is still safe to cook.

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How to Store Turkey?

To prevent turkey spoilage, it is important to store it properly.

Safe Turkey Storage Times

To prevent turkey spoilage, it is important to store it properly. Here are the recommended maximum storage times:

Turkey Type Refrigerator Freezer
Raw whole turkey 1-2 days past sell-by date 1 year
Raw turkey parts 1-2 days past sell-by date 9 months
Cooked turkey 3-4 days 4 months
Thawed turkey 1-2 days Do not refreeze

Always err on the side of caution – if in doubt, throw it out.

Storing Raw Turkey

When storing raw turkey, it’s important to keep it at a proper temperature to prevent bacterial growth. Here are some tips for storing raw turkey:

Check Sell-by Date

  • Raw turkeys have a sell-by date printed on the packaging. Store turkey no longer than 1-2 days past this date for maximum freshness.
  • Discard turkey if it’s past the sell-by date to avoid foodborne illness. The sell-by date is not an expiration date, but it does indicate maximum recommended freshness.

Refrigerate Properly

  • Refrigerate raw turkey right away after purchasing it. Keep it stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Make sure turkey is refrigerated at 40°F or below. Check temperature with a food thermometer for accuracy.
  • Do not thaw turkey at room temperature. Keep frozen until ready to thaw in the refrigerator.

Use Original Packaging

  • Keep raw turkey in its original store packaging until ready to use. The packaging protects the turkey from contaminants and prevents drying out.
  • If repackaging, make sure packaging is air tight and liquid tight. Place in a deep container to prevent leaking.

Use Within Two Days

  • For maximum freshness and food safety, cook raw turkey within one to two days of bringing it home.
  • The longer raw turkey sits in the fridge, the more opportunities for bacteria to multiply.

Check for Spoilage

  • Do not use turkey if it has an off odor, sticky or tacky feel, or foul appearance. These are signs of spoilage.
  • Meat should not have any discoloration. The flesh should be firm with no visible slime.

Storing Cooked Turkey

Leftover cooked turkey needs proper storage as well. Here are some tips:

Refrigerate Promptly

  • Refrigerate cooked turkey and leftovers within 2 hours. Cut whole turkey into smaller pieces so it chills quickly.
  • Place turkey in shallow containers for quick cooling in the fridge.

Use Leftovers Within 3-4 Days

  • Eat leftover turkey within 3 to 4 days for maximum quality and safety.
  • Turkey broth or gravy should be used within 1 to 2 days.
  • Reheat thoroughly until steaming hot, at least 165°F. Do not reheat more than once.

Freeze for Later Use

  • For longer storage, divide turkey into freezer-safe packaging leaving 1⁄2 inch headspace.
  • Label packages with contents and date. Frozen turkey will last 4-6 months.
  • Thaw overnight in fridge before reheating.

Avoid certain containers

  • Do not store turkey in containers with bisphenol A (BPA) to avoid chemical contamination.
  • Do not use plastic grocery bags or non-food grade materials to store turkey.

Signs of Spoiled Turkey

Check for these signs that cooked turkey has spoiled and should be discarded:

  • Sliminess or stickiness on the surface
  • Off odor that smells rotten or sour
  • Mold growth anywhere on the turkey
  • Discoloration or graying around bones or joints

Discard spoiled turkey. Do not taste questionable turkey. When in doubt, throw it out to avoid foodborne illness.

How Long Do turkeys Last in the Freezer?

Frozen turkey can be kept much longer than fresh, but the quality still diminishes over time.

Here are the freezer time limits for maximum safety and quality:

  • Raw whole turkey: 1 year
  • Raw turkey parts: 9 months
  • Cooked turkey meat: 4 months
  • Homemade turkey soup or stock: 3-4 months

Ground turkey has a shorter shelf life of just 4 months due to its greater surface area.

Turkey that’s kept constantly frozen at 0°F will remain safe indefinitely, but the flavor and texture will become lower in quality after these recommended times.

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Can You Get Sick From Eating A Bad turkey?

Yes, eating turkey that has spoiled can make you very ill. Turkey is highly susceptible to harmful bacteria.

The biggest risks of eating bad turkey are:

  • Salmonella – Causes diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps within 12-72 hours after eating. It can be life-threatening in certain groups.
  • Clostridium perfringens – Causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 6-24 hours.
  • Listeria – Causes fever, diarrhea, nausea, and headache. It primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
  • Campylobacter – Leads to diarrhea, cramping, nausea, and vomiting within 2-5 days after eating contaminated food.

These bacteria continue to multiply in bad turkey. Proper cooking kills the pathogens, but after spoiling, toxins can remain that still cause illness.

Don’t take risks with suspect turkey. When in doubt, throw it out.

Is It Safe to Eat Moldy turkeys?

No, you should never eat turkey meat that has mold. Mold often develops along with dangerous bacteria. While mold itself can cause allergic reactions or respiratory problems, the microbes are an even greater concern.

With deli meats, mold generally appears in early stages of spoilage. But on whole turkey or parts, mold penetrates deeper. Even if you cut away visible mold, the fungi’s roots may spread into the meat where you can’t see them.

It’s not worth the health risks. Any turkey growing mold should be discarded right away even if it was previously frozen. Don’t taste to determine if it’s ok. Moldy turkey has the potential to make you sick whether it’s cooked, smoked, or raw.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if thawed turkey is bad?

Check the color and smell. If thawed turkey is gray, has an off odor, or feels tacky or slimy it has spoiled and should be discarded. Previously frozen turkey must still be used within 1-2 days for safety.

What happens if you freeze turkey twice?

Freezing, thawing, and refreezing turkey is dangerous. Each thaw allows bacteria to grow faster, so turkey quality and taste significantly decline with multiple freezes. Only thaw the amount needed and cook within 1-2 days.

Can you eat 2 week old turkey?

No, turkey shouldn’t be eaten if it’s more than 1-3 days old, even if refrigerated. Bacteria multiply quickly reaching unsafe levels after this time. 2 week old turkey carries a high risk of food poisoning.

Is it OK to rinse raw turkey?

Washing raw turkey is not recommended. Splashing water can spread bacteria to sinks, counters, and beyond. Cooking to a safe internal temperature kills any pathogens present on the surface.

Can spoiled turkey make dogs sick?

Yes, dogs can get food poisoning from bad turkey just like people. Never feed your dog turkey that smells bad, has mold, or looks otherwise unfit to eat. Stick to fresh turkey and promptly refrigerate or discard leftovers.

Final Takeaway

It’s always better to be safe than sorry when determining if turkey is still fresh. Rely on sight, smell and touch rather than the expiration date alone. When turkey has foul odors, changes texture, or shows slime or mold, don’t taste or feed it to pets – throw it out.

With proper refrigeration at 40°F or below and freezing at 0°F, you can enjoy delicious fresh turkey without worrying about spoilage or foodborne illness. Know the short timeframe for using fresh turkey, thaw safely in the fridge, and follow cooking guidelines.

Paying attention to handling, storage, and signs of spoilage will keep your turkey fresh and prevent a bout of food poisoning. Trust your senses, follow safety tips, and you’ll keep yourself and your family healthy.

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