How Long Will Turkey Last in the Fridge? (9 Storing Ideas)

Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: December 5, 2023

As a dedicated carnivore-lifestyle devotee, I take food safety very seriously, so I wanted to find out how long turkey can last in the fridge.

I checked what the USDA says and carefully tracked the changes in my raw and cooked turkey meat for the last few years whenever I was cooking a Thanksgiving bird.

This hands-on experience helped me to learn the ins and outs of storing turkey properly, and I’m happy to share them with you today.

Quick Summary

  • Raw turkey lasts for up to two days, and cooked turkey lasts up to four days in the fridge.
  • You need to store turkey properly to ensure it lasts as long as possible in the fridge.
  • Check the bird’s smell, color, and texture to find out if it’s spoiled.

How Long Does Raw Turkey Last in the Fridge

A raw turkey that last in the fridge

Raw turkey lasts for two days in the fridge. Generally, raw turkey has a short shelf life. Bacteria can spread quickly at a temperature of 40 degrees and above.

If you wait too long, the turkey can spoil. This is why it’s best to buy turkey only a few days before you plan to consume it.

Because turkey spoils easily, you also need to stick to the two-hour rule. Don’t leave the turkey sitting on the counter for too long when you come back from the shop.

If meat sits at room temperature for over two hours, it has to be thrown away because bacteria can grow and cause food poisoning [1].

You need quality turkey to ensure it lasts as long as possible in the fridge. If you don’t know where to buy premium-quality meat, ButcherBox's meat delivery service is a good place to start, as it offers a large selection of poultry, including turkey.

Also Read: How Long Do Hot Dogs Last in the Fridge

How Long Does Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge

Leftover cooked turkey placed in a food container ready to be stored in the fridge

Cooked turkey lasts for three to four days in the fridge when the temperature is 40 degrees or lower.

Refrigeration slows the speed at which bacteria grows but doesn’t stop it completely. You should always use cooked turkey as soon as possible, but you’ll be safe if you stick to the four-day time frame.

Same as with raw turkey, it’s crucial not to let the leftover cooked turkey sit at room temperature for over two hours. Store your turkey leftovers in the fridge as soon as they cool down.

Also, keep in mind leftover turkey might not taste as good as a freshly cooked bird. It can change color and become dry. Generally, the longer you wait to consume the leftover turkey, the worse it’ll taste.

Note: You can store cooked turkey in the freezer for four months.

“USDA recommends using cooked turkey within 3 to 4 days, kept refrigerated (40°F or less). Refrigeration slows but does not stop bacterial growth.”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture

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9 Tips on Storing Turkey Safely

Sliced leftover turkey placed inside a large food container

Here’s how to store turkey:

  • Cover the cooked bird loosely with foil so it cools down. Once it has cooled, wrap the whole turkey, cut it up, and store it in food containers before placing it in the fridge.
  • Don’t put steaming turkey in the fridge or freezer. This causes condensation, which leads to bacteria growth. Store cooked bird as soon as it cools.
  • If you’re wrapping turkey, use aluminum foil or plastic wrap. 
  • Store cooked leftovers in a plastic bag or a snap-top box to limit how much air touches the leftovers. The same goes when storing in the freezer to avoid freezer burn.
  • Keep the meat moist when storing cooked turkey by placing the leftovers in a shallow container and covering them with gravy.
  • Don’t store raw, cooked, or frozen turkey next to uncooked meat, as the juices can contaminate it.
  • If you can’t eat leftovers in four days, freeze turkey at a temperature of 0 degrees or less.
  • Thaw frozen turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Always wash your hands before and after storing turkey. Re-wrap the leftovers before returning them to the fridge.

3 Ways On How to Tell if Turkey Has Gone Bad

A woman holding her nose because of the foul smell coming from a turkey that has gone bad

You tell a turkey has gone bad by checking its smell, texture, and appearance.

1. Smell

Fresh turkey smells similar to raw chicken. At most, it should have a mild odor.

But, if there’s an intense smell, such as rotten eggs or a sour smell, it’s a sign your raw meat has gone bad.

Cooked turkey also shouldn’t have a bad smell. If it doesn’t smell like seasonings you used while roasting but has a noticeably sour smell, it’s spoiled.

2. Texture

A bad turkey with slimy texture

Fresh turkey has smooth skin. But if you notice it’s turning slimy or sticky, throw it away immediately.

Also, a slimy turkey will smell foul because the bacteria activity goes up and spoils the meat, so it’s easy to recognize the bird has gone bad.

Note: Do a touch test to check the texture. Touch the turkey with your finger. If it feels slimy, sticky, or very dry, it’s a sign it’s spoiled. Throw it away, and don’t forget to wash your hands.

3. Appearance

Finally, check the appearance, specifically color. Good turkey has a pale white or light pink color and a slightly darker color on the thighs. If it’s turning grey, green, or yellow, it’s developing harmful bacteria.

You’ll know cooked turkey has gone bad if it goes noticeably darker.

Note: If your smoked bird has light pink skin, it’s normal and not a cause for alarm [2].

Keep in mind the color isn’t the best indication a turkey has gone bad. Always check for other signs of spoilage.

Also Read: Can Pork Be Pink?

FAQs

Can You Eat Leftover Turkey After 5 Days?

No, you can’t eat leftover turkey after five days. You should eat Thanksgiving dinner leftovers in four days, or bacteria will spread.

Can I Keep an Uncooked Turkey in the Fridge for a Week?

No, you can’t keep an uncooked turkey in the fridge for a week. An uncooked turkey can stay in the fridge for one to two days.

Is It OK to Leave a Turkey Out Overnight to Thaw?

No, it’s not OK to leave a turkey overnight to thaw. The safest method for thawing frozen turkey is to leave it in the fridge. Place frozen turkey on a large baking dish to catch the juices. You can also place turkey in cold tap water if you’re short on time.


References:

  1. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-the-2-Hour-Rule-with-leaving-food-out
  2. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/poultry/
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About the author

Gabriel Woods
Chef/Food Editor
Gabrielle Woods holds a BSc degree in Hospitality Management with a summa cum laude distinction from the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in Culinary Entrepreneurship. She helps clients achieve specific fitness goals through protein-based meal prepping. She believes cooking is both an art and a science best done with a balance of tradition and innovation.
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