How to Tell if Ground Turkey is Bad? Proper Storage and Safety Tips

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 to tell if ground turkey is bad

Are you looking for lean and tasty white meat to serve for dinner or a party? Ground turkey is an underrated option that can be swapped for ground pork or beef in a range of recipes. But what if you bought it last week and forgot to freeze your turkey, so it sat in your fridge all this time, is it still good? 

Knowing how to tell if ground turkey has gone bad can help save your meal and protect you and your guests from food poisoning.

Ground meat tends to spoil faster than whole cuts, so always take the time to inspect ground turkey before buying it and again before cooking. Let’s look at some of the ways you can learn how to tell if you have bad ground turkey in your fridge.

Ground meat spoils quickly because it has more surface area than large chunks of meat. Every bit of turkey can get exposed to bacteria in the grinding process, making it susceptible to going bad quickly if it is allowed to get too warm or is exposed to the air. 

Expiration Date

The expiration date is not a telltale sign of whether or not raw ground turkey meat is safe or spoiled, but it should be used as a guide. In the US, meat products don’t usually have an “expiration date.” They have a “sell by” date – the date by which the store is required to sell the product –  and sometimes a “best by” or “use by” date – which is the estimated date until which the meat should be good if it’s handled properly.

It is possible that the meat could spoil before this date or be good for several days after it. Always check the “use by” before you start to prepare the ground turkey. If the date is near or past, be sure to inspect the meat carefully to look for other signs of spoilage,


Fresh ground turkey has a light pink color or red color. It is not as vibrant as beef or other red meats, but it should also not be dark or too dull. When the ground turkey is exposed to air, it could become more pale.

How To Tell If Ground Turkey Is Spoiled - Color Changed

If the color of the ground turkey has become gray, dark brown, black, or green, it could be a sign that the meat has gone bad.


The scent of ground turkey should be very mild. It can have a slightly gamey scent, but should not be pungent or offensive. As meat goes bad, the scent changes and it becomes a bad odor.

Many people compare spoiled ground turkey’s odor to that of roadkill. It can have a sour smell or a rotten odor. This is a sign that the meat is bad and that it’s time to toss it out.


Expect a soft texture with a little bit of bounce when you touch ground turkey. It’s definitely softer than ground beef or pork, so a very soft texture alone does not mean it’s gone bad

How To Tell If Ground Turkey Is Spoiled - Texture Changed

If the meat seems to be juicy, slimy, or gooey, it might not be safe to eat. Even frozen turkey can turn slimy or sticky once it’s thawed if it is no longer good.

What Causes Ground Turkey To Go Bad?

There are many things that can make ground turkey go bad. Being aware of these things can help you make sure you don’t cook, serve, or eat spoiled ground turkey.

Air Exposure

Mold and bacteria are present in the air all around us. Any time your turkey is exposed to air, it comes in contact with these microorganisms. Storing the ground turkey in an airtight container will help keep pathogens out.


Bacteria and microorganisms can be present in meat at almost any temperature above freezing, but once the temperature goes above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they start to multiply incredibly quickly.

The faster the bacteria multiplies, the faster the meat goes bad. Failing to store the meat at the correct temperature will cause to meat to spoil much faster than if it were kept at a cooler temperature.

Improper Handling

Every surface has the potential to host bacteria, including your hands and kitchen utensils. Improperly handling ground turkey could expose it to bacteria and microorganisms and speed up the decomposition process.

Always wear gloves, wash your hands and surfaces before and after they come in contact with the turkey, and be sure that anything you plan to store it in has been properly cleaned before you put the ground turkey in the refrigerator. 

What’s The Best Way To Store Ground Turkey In The Refrigerator?

Storing ground turkey properly will extend its life and reduce the chance of bacterial growth. Ground turkey may be refrigerated or frozen, but it does need to be kept in the right packaging and kept at the right temperature to ensure the ground turkey is safe. 

Keep It Cool

If you let your ground turkey come to room temperature or get above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria will start growing on it – and so you should cook it right away. Even the drive home from the grocery store can be enough to cause the turkey to thaw or get warm. Stay safe by using an insulated bag to transport the turkey from the store to your home.

Once you get it home, put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. If you know it will be a while before you will get to it, consider freezing it.

Wrap It

Tightly wrapping turkey burger helps keep air and bacteria from getting to the meat. Most ground turkey is packaged in plastic. You can also move the turkey to an airtight container, like this Gladware Freezerware Food Storage Container, for an extra layer of protection.

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Store It Right

When you open your fridge to take something out, the temperature changes. The longer the door stays open the more the food is affected. If don’t have your turkey burger stored in the right place, it could experience a lot of temperature changes, making it easier for bacteria to grow on it.

Store your ground turkey towards the back of the fridge on the bottom shelf. This is the coldest spot in most fridges and gives your turkey the best chance of staying cool.

How Long Does Frozen Ground Turkey Last?

Ground turkey might only last a few days in the refrigerator but it can last 3 to 4 months in the freezer. Freezing can prevent ground turkey from going bad before you get a chance to use it.

You can freeze both raw or cooked turkey, but be sure to label it clearly so you know what you are dealing with.

How Long Does Frozen Ground Turkey Last

Once thawed, raw turkey will be a light pink color and cooked ground turkey will look slightly gray or brown.

How To Cook Ground Turkey Safely

If you have ground turkey in your refrigerator and want to prepare it, there are some things you should due to ensure you are doing so safely.  Cooked turkey is safe to eat when it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. How you get it to that temperature is up to you! 

You should never cook ground turkey in the microwave, but using the microwave is a fast way to defrost a ground turkey.  If it is not frozen, it should be cooked within two days of buying it to ensure you are using it when it is at its best. Some options for cooking ground turkey include:

  • Frying
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Pressure Cooking
  • Slow Cooking

What Happens If You Eat Ground Turkey That Has Gone Bad?

It’s never a good idea to eat turkey or any food that has gone bad. The severity of your reaction depends on several factors, including how bad the meat is. If the ground turkey is simply out of date, it may not really be bad.

If it has started to spoil, you could simply feel nauseous or sluggish. In severe cases, you could suffer from food poisoning. Food poisoning can be fatal at times, but most people are able to get over it within a few days.

Some of the symptoms of food poisoning include: 

  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness

How To Safely Handle Ground Turkey

How you handle ground turkey affects how long it lasts. The more time turkey spends out of the refrigerator or freezer, the more likely it is to go bad.  Refrigerate or freeze the ground turkey within two hours of buying it. Consider using gloves when preparing ground turkey.

Defrost ground turkey in a microwaveable bowl if you’re using a microwave to thaw it, or keep it covered if thawing it in the fridge.  The best way to tell if the ground turkey is thawed is to touch it through the package and see if it is frozen in the middle. 

How To Safely Handle Ground Turkey

Try to move the turkey straight to storage or the pan you are using to cook it without moving it to other surfaces first. Every surface your turkey comes in contact with could have bacteria on it that could spread to the meat – or from the meat to other surfaces. Once the meat is cooked, keep your turkey covered and warm until you serve it. 

Is It Okay To Cook Bad Ground Turkey?

While heating a turkey to a safe temperature is a good way to kill any bacteria that could be growing on it, cooking a bad turkey will not save it. If the turkey has spoiled, you might be able to kill most of the bacteria – though some that cause foodborne illness can survive moderately high temps – but you won’t be able to remove toxins that the bacteria has released.

Uncooked ground turkey that has gone bad should be thrown away and never served.


Ground turkey is a tasty and healthy lean meat option that is versatile and a great option for any occasion. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last super long in the fridge, especially once it’s been exposed to air.  You can use all your senses to determine if ground turkey is good or bad and should never cook or serve it if you are unsure. 

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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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