Ground turkey is a versatile protein that is often used as a healthy alternative to ground beef in a variety of dishes from burgers to tacos to chili. However you use ground turkey, it is important to understand how to store it safely so you can have it available when you need it.
How Long Can Ground Turkey Sit Out on the Counter?
Per the US Department of Agriculture, or the USDA, raw turkey should not be left out for more than 2 hours (one hour if at a temperature more than 90 degrees). However, I would leave in the fridge until you are ready to use to be safe.
Like raw ground turkey, cooked ground turkey should not be left on the counter at room temperature longer than 2 hours as well.
How Long Does Ground Turkey Last in the Refrigerator?
Cooked ground turkey, if stored in an air-tight container, can last 3-4 days in the fridge.
Raw ground turkey can be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days. If you buy from the store, you can go by the expiration date on the package. As long as you don’t open the package you can store in its original packaging. However, if you do open the packaging and use part of the turkey, I would store in an air-tight container.
Can you Freeze Cooked Ground Turkey?
Yes. Cooked ground turkey freezes well as long as it’s placed in freezer bags or a freezer container. I would make sure you portion it out before freezing so you can thaw only what you need. You can’t refreeze cooked turkey after it has been thawed once so you need to be sure to plan accordingly.
How Long Does Ground Turkey Last in the Freezer?
While cooked turkey can safely be stored in the freezer indefinitely, it is recommended that you leave it in the freezer no longer than 3 or 4 months as it will begin to lose moisture and flavor after that time.
Raw turkey will also safely keep in the freezer indefinitely. However, I would use within a year to avoid freezer burn.
How to Thaw Frozen Ground Turkey?
Thawing Raw Turkey
The three recommended ways for thawing raw turkey are in the refrigerator, submerging in cold water, and in the microwave.
If you have the time, thawing in fridge is my favorite way to thaw raw turkey. I like this method because you don’t lose any quality and all you have to do is place in the fridge and leave it until thawed. Once thawed, it is good in the fridge for 1-2 days.
I usually leave the turkey in the fridge overnight and it is ready to use the next day. However, if you have more than a couple pounds of turkey that you are trying to thaw, I would go by the below USDA guidelines:
- 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
- 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
- 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
- 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days
If you are shorter on time, submerging the turkey in cold water will also get the job done without hurting the quality of your turkey. However, you need to make sure the turkey is tightly wrapped while in the water. While quicker than putting in fridge, it does require a little more work as you need to replace the water every 30 minutes or so until thawed. It also needs to be cooked immediately after thawing. Typically, it takes 30 minutes or so for each pound of turkey. The USDA chart below shows the guidelines for thawing raw turkey in submerged water:
- 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
- 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
- 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours
Microwaving is my least favorite method to thaw turkey because it can make the texture rubbery if not done properly. However, it is the quickest method. Microwaves have a defrost function where you enter the weight and it will automatically set the time required to defrost, asking you to flip halfway through the process. Once defrosted, cook immediately to avoid any bacteria growth.
Thawing Cooked Ground Turkey
My favorite way to thaw ground turkey is in the oven. To do this, wrap your frozen turkey in foil and place on a cookie sheet or casserole dish and put in the oven at 300 degrees. I would check every 20 minutes or so depending on how much you have.
How to Tell if Ground Turkey is Bad?
Turkey, like other forms of poultry, can grow some dangerous bacteria, such as salmonella, when it begins to go bad. Luckily, your senses will help you when determining whether ground turkey has gone bad.
Ground turkey should have a light pink color with specks of white fat. If it starts to turn a darker color or a yellow color, it is going bad. Also, if you notice any mold or visible change in texture I would also throw it out.
If there is any unpleasant oder to you ground turkey, throw it out. Ground turkey shouldn’t have much of a smell so if you notice anything foul, it has probably gone bad.
If the texture of your ground turkey feels off, get rid of it. In particular, if you notice that your turkey is slimy, unusually dry, or sticky, it has probably gone bad.
Hopefully it doesn’t come to this, but if you don’t notice any unusual appearance, smell or texture but you start eating and it just doesn’t taste right, stop eating and throw it away. The risks of food poisoning are certainly not worth taking a chance. As I always say, when in doubt, throw it out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can thawed turkey be refrozen?
Raw turkey thawed in the fridge can be refrozen if done so within 1-2 days of being thawed. However, it may not have the same quality when thawed again.
If the turkey is cooked, it should not be refrozen after being thawed.
How long does turkey last in the fridge after being thawed?
If you thaw in the refrigerator, raw turkey can last 1-2 days after being thawed. Raw turkey needs to be cooked right away if thawed in cold water or the microwave.
Final Thoughts on How Long Ground Turkey Lasts
Ground turkey is a great ingredient to have on hand as it can be used as a healthy source of protein in a wide range of dishes while also providing great flavor! I hope all you have found this information useful in answering your turkey storage questions!
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