Your Turkey Storage Guide: How Long Can a Fresh Turkey Stay in the Fridge?

Ellisha Rader Mannering
Ellisha Rader Mannering

Ellisha Rader Mannering

Ellisha is a passionate food writer with over 15 years of writing experience under her belt.

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How Long Can a Fresh Turkey Last in the Fridge

Roasting turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is our family tradition. I remember once we decided to buy a fresh turkey for our holiday feast. At that time we had no idea how long can you keep a turkey in the fridge. To my horror, when I finally took the mammoth bird out of the package after 5 days it was like rotten eggs.

Long story short, we left it in the refrigerator for too long and it went bad before we could even cook it. Lesson learned! Now, I make sure to understand the shelf life of a fresh turkey so that we can enjoy a safe and delicious meal.

Read on for more information if you are planning on making your first turkey roast or haven’t previously given much attention to safe storing practices. It will help you avoid making the same mistake and have a stress-free Thanksgiving!

Be careful though, the clock starts ticking as soon as the turkey is placed in the fridge. So, I recommend buying your turkey no more than 2 days before you plan to cook it.

The recommended storage times for a fresh whole turkey are as follows:

  • In the fridge: Up to 2 days
  • In the freezer: Up to 1 year

We made the mistake of keeping our turkey in the fridge for 5 days and end up wasting it. So, if you plan to keep your turkey for over two days, it is best to freeze it. 

Storage Times for Raw Turkey

Raw turkey – whether fresh or frozen and then thawed – can last for up to 2 days inside the fridge once it is fully thawed.

The whole raw turkey will last for 1 year, while raw turkey pieces will be good for up to 9 months in the freezer. 

Sell by Date

It is also essential to consider the “sell by” date on your turkey’s packaging. This date is not an expiration date for the turkey. It is the date until which grocery stores can display that bird on their shelf. 

This date gives you an insight for how long the bird has been sitting in the refrigerator at the store. Try buying your turkey that has still a few days to go until it reaches that “sell by” date. 

Storage Times for Raw Turkey

Also, you should cook the turkey within 1-2 days of purchasing instead of waiting for it to reach sell by date.

Signs Turkey Has Gone Bad

You can tell your bird has gone bad if any of the following signs appear:

  • Discoloration – Any change in color other than light pink means the bird is unsuitable to eat.
  • Bad smell – Rotten eggs like smell or any unpleasant smell is a sign of spoilage.
  • Change in texture – If the turkey is slimy or sticky to touch it may be rotten.

Factors Affecting the Storage Life of a Fresh Turkey

Regarding the shelf life of a fresh turkey, several factors can affect how long it will last in the fridge. Understanding these factors can help you decide how to store your turkey and when to consume it.


A colder temperature can help fresh turkey last longer. The ideal temperature for storing a fresh turkey in the refrigerator is 40°F (4°C) or below. This temperature is out of the “danger zone”  so harmful bacteria responsible for foodborne illness will not multiply rapidly or cause food spoilage.

However, it is important to know that the temperature of your fridge can fluctuate. This happens because the fridge is being opened and closed, or because the temperature of the kitchen may change.

Factors Affecting the Storage Life of a Fresh Turkey - Temperature

Store your turkey on the fridge’s bottom shelf as it is the coldest part of your fridge and also less likely to experience temperature fluctuations. 


The packaging of a fresh turkey can also affect its shelf life.

Pay attention to packaging if you buy a fresh turkey from a grocery store or butcher. Only accept airtight and vacuum-sealed packaging. It will help extend the turkey’s shelf life by preventing air exposure.

If the turkey is not being used immediately, keep it in its original packaging. If you have opened the packaging, transfer the turkey to an airtight container. You can also wrap it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

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Quality of Turkey

Turkeys from different manufacturers and brands can vary in quality. Look for a turkey that has a plump and moist appearance. There shouldn’t be any discoloration or unpleasant odors.

How Long Can Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge?

Cooked turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for four days if all guidelines are met. 

According to the USDA these guidelines are:

  • Refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking
  • Keep your fridge temperature at 40°F or less
  • Reheat to an internal temperature of 165°F 

If you won’t consume the turkey within four days after cooking, it’s best to freeze it to prolong its storage life.

How Long Can Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge

When reheating cooked turkey, ensure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). The high heat will eliminate any harmful bacteria that may have developed on it.

How to Store Leftover Cooked Turkey

You’ve cooked the perfect turkey, and now you’re left with a heap of delicious leftovers. But what’s the best way to store them, so they don’t go to waste?

There are two simple options for storing turkey leftovers:

For Later Use

If you have a large amount of cooked leftover turkey, you can freeze it for later use. Simply wrap small portions in aluminum foil or plastic wrap before putting them in a sealed container.

Vacuum sealer bags used with a vacuum sealing system are the best option for airtight food storage. Remember to write the date on the package for reference. Frozen leftover cooked turkey should be consumed within 2 to 6 months.

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For Immediate Use

Leftover turkey sandwiches ais an awesome lunch idea for the next day after Thanksgiving. You’ll need to store the turkey leftovers in the fridge if you want to use them within one or two days.

Put small portions of leftovers in an airtight container, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil and place them in the fridge. It’s recommended to store turkey leftovers within two hours of cooking. Also, consume them within three to four days.

Check out this informative video on how to store your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving:

How to Freeze Raw Turkey

Freezing turkey is a safe way to increase its shelf life and prevent food waste. Here are the options for freezing raw turkey:

  • Keep the original packaging – When freezing raw turkey, it’s important to keep it in its original packaging. The original packaging is meant to keep bacteria out and the turkey fresh. Always buy the turkey with undamaged packaging. However, if you want to freeze the turkey and the packaging is punctured or you have opened it, wrap it up tightly.
  • Wrap up if needed – If you’re freezing leftover uncooked turkey pieces, keep them airtight. Wrap individual pieces in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put them in a freezer-safe container. Be sure to write the freezing date on the container. It helps keep track of how long it’s been in the freezer.
How to Freeze Raw Turkey

How to Safely Thaw a Frozen Turkey

The best way to safely thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. 

Place the wrapped turkey on a tray or pan to catch any leaking juices. Alternatively, you can thaw the turkey in the microwave or cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.

Do not thaw the turkey using hot water or at room temperature to avoid temperature danger zone that can lead to bacterial growth and foodborne illness.

Remember that thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is the safest method as it minimizes the risk of bacterial growth. Thawing in cold tap water or using a microwave can be quicker but requires close attention to ensure the turkey is thawed evenly and safely.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, it takes 24 hours to thaw 4-5 lbs in the fridge. So, it can take up to 6 days to thaw a bird weighing 20-24 lbs.

The average thawing time for every 4-5 lbs is:

Weight in lbsTime to thaw
4-12 lbs1-3 days
12-16 lbs3-4 days
16-20 lbs4-5 days
20-24 lbs5-6 days
Average Turkey Thawing Time


How far ahead can I buy a fresh turkey?

You can buy a fresh turkey up to 2 days before you plan to cook it. Do not prep or stuff the turkey until the day you plan to cook it. 

If you need to purchase a turkey more than 2 days in advance, consider buying a frozen turkey instead.

Which is better, fresh or frozen turkey?

Fresh turkey is often more expensive and has a shorter shelf life than frozen turkey, but some people prefer the taste and texture of fresh turkey.

Frozen turkey, on the other hand, is more widely available, less expensive, and can be stored in the freezer for several months. 

So, the choice depends on personal preference, budget, and convenience.

How long will a thawed turkey keep in the fridge?

A fully thawed turkey can keep in the fridge for up to two days. To thaw frozen turkey, transfer it from the freezer to the fridge several days before cooking it to allow for sufficient thawing time. After thawing frozen turkey, keep it refrigerated at a temperature of 40°F or below and use it within two days to ensure optimal freshness and safety.


Knowing how long a fresh turkey can last in the fridge is essential to ensure it is safe and delicious to eat during the holidays. According to the USDA, a fresh turkey can sit in the refrigerator for up to two days if stored properly at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below.

For safe turkey storage, I recommend using plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and vacuum sealer bags that can be sealed with a vacuum sealing system

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I would love to read your experience in comments section. Have you always had a fool proof Thanksgiving dinner or you also have a fair share of Thanksgiving disasters? 

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Ellisha Rader Mannering
About The Author
Ellisha has been writing about food for over 15 years. When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, and coaching baton twirling.

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