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How To Tell If Ground Turkey Is Bad – The Definitive Guide

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Hands up if you’ve ever found a pack of meat in the fridge that you just can’t remember buying! 

It can be so difficult to tell if it has gone bad – but no one wants to risk food poisoning. Processed meats such as ground turkey can be particularly difficult to check if they are safe to eat.

But how can you tell if ground turkey is bad? Ground turkey which has gone bad will have changed in color, smell, and consistency. Spoiled ground turkey will often be largely gray or discolored, and its consistency will be primarily slimy and tacky. It will also give off a sharp sulfur-like smell which can help identify whether or not it’s bad.

But why is ground turkey so risky? And how can you tell if ground turkey has gone bad? We have got all the answers and more for you!

We will also look at how to store ground turkey safely and how to keep it in the best possible condition.

What Is Ground Turkey And Why Does It Go Bad?

Ground turkey is a popular ingredient in dishes such as meatballs, burgers, and meatloaf, and is a healthier option than other ground meats. But what exactly is ground turkey?

Well, it goes without saying that ground turkey is made from turkey meat! It normally contains a blend of turkey meat, with both the darker leg meat and lighter breast meat included in the mix.

Most ground turkey also contains some of the fat and skin of the turkey.

This turkey mixture is finely ground into a coarse paste which can be used to form patties and other delicious recipes. Ground turkey paste sometimes contains additives and flavorings; if this is the case they should be listed on the packaging.

The packaging should also include a use-by date; ground turkey should not be cooked and consumed after this date, even if it does not look bad.

Like any other type of fresh poultry, ground turkey can go bad very quickly! So, what could happen if you cooked some ground turkey which has turned bad?

Cooking raw poultry which has gone bad does not destroy harmful bacteria and microorganisms, and these can lead to serious health problems such as gastrointestinal upsets, joint pains, chills, and fever.

Two factors can cause ground turkey to go bad quickly:


At temperatures of 40°F and above, bacteria and microorganisms will start to multiply 4-5 times faster.

This allows toxic bacteria to breed to the point that the ground turkey becomes rotten and is completely inedible.

Air Exposure

Exposing ground turkey to air can create a bacteria density at levels of 2 times or more than when stored in a sealed container.

If there is any suspicion at all that your ground turkey has gone bad, then it must be discarded immediately. Rotten poultry meat is one of the worst offenders for food poisoning, and it really is not worth the risk!

What Does Bad Ground Turkey Look Like?

Fresh ground turkey does not look like other types of ground meat – it is normally almost white in color, with a slightly pink tinge.

This pinkness will fade as the meat ages, and older ground turkey may have a slightly gray appearance. Ground turkey should appear moist, with a slightly glistening appearance.

When ground turkey goes bad, it will look dull or possibly even slimy. The color may develop a green or yellow tinge, and any pinkness will disappear.

What Does Bad Ground Turkey Smell Like?

Fresh ground turkey should have virtually no smell, so if you smell anything slightly unusual then it is very likely that your turkey is bad! 

When poultry meat goes rotten it will give off a characteristic sulfur-like smell, caused by spoilage of the meat due to dangerous bacteria.

How To Tell If Ground Turkey Kept In The Refrigerator Is Bad

So, back to that pack of ground turkey in your refrigerator – how can you tell if it is bad?

Take it from the refrigerator and look at it carefully – does the meat have a green, grey, or yellow tinge? If so, it has most likely gone bad and must be discarded immediately.

Take a look at the texture as well. When meat goes bad the texture begins to change, and the meat will become slimy, tacky, or sticky to the touch.

This is an indication that bacteria are accumulating on the surface of the meat and that tissue breakdown is occurring.

How To Tell If Ground Turkey Kept In The Freezer Is Bad

If your ground turkey is still frozen, it will be almost impossible to tell that it has gone bad! You will need to defrost the ground turkey then check it carefully for any changes in color, texture, or smell.

Ground turkey is particularly susceptible to freezer burn, and this may be visible before you defrost the meat.

Meat with freezer burn will develop patches with a leathery, dark brown, or gray appearance. When defrosted, these areas will be dry and tough, and will not be appetizing when cooked.

How To Stop Ground Turkey From Going Bad

The two factors which cause raw ground turkey to go bad are warm temperatures and exposure to air. Raw ground turkey should not be left out at room temperature unless you are intending to cook with it within one hour or less.

To preserve your ground turkey, it should be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer.

  • Refrigerator – ground turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. If it is not going to be consumed within this timeframe, it should be cooked or frozen.
  • Freezer – ground turkey will retain the best consistency and flavor for up to four months in the freezer. It can be safely frozen for longer than this but may deteriorate in taste and quality.

To preserve your raw ground turkey at its very best, make sure that it is in an airtight container. Ideally, it should be double-wrapped for freezing to reduce the risk of freezer burn.

Related Questions

Now that we’ve gone over what to do if you’re ground turkey is going bad, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!

How long does cooked ground turkey keep for?

Cooked ground turkey can be kept in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. If you have bought raw ground turkey and cannot freeze it, then cooking it is an effective way to extend its shelf life.

Cooked ground turkey can also be stored in the freezer for up to 4 months. However, it must be carefully packaged to protect against freezer burn. Cooked ground turkey will deteriorate in taste and texture in the freezer over time.

How long can ground turkey sit out to thaw?

Frozen ground turkey should not be left to sit out for more than 2 hours. Any longer than this and the meat may become contaminated and start to rot.

It is always best to thaw frozen ground turkey in the refrigerator, but if this is not possible then it can be left out for short periods at room temperature. Make sure that it is in an airtight container, in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

How do I defrost ground turkey?

Frozen ground turkey should be defrosted in chilled conditions, such as a refrigerator or cold water bath. Defrosting ground turkey at room temperature can lead to it spoiling and becoming rotten.

The ideal way to defrost ground turkey is overnight in the refrigerator. Once thawed, your ground turkey can remain in the fridge for 1-2 days before cooking.

If you want to eat the ground turkey the same day, a quicker method is to defrost it in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cool.

Ground turkey can also be thawed out using the defrost setting on the microwave, but it must be cooked immediately afterward. This is because the microwave will start to warm the meat and bacteria will quickly multiply.

Does ground turkey need to be covered in the fridge?

Raw ground turkey must be kept covered in the fridge to prevent contamination of other foodstuffs. Uncovered foods can absorb and transmit flavors and odors to and from other foods in the fridge.

If food is stored uncovered, bacteria from uncooked foods will also circulate easily in the air and contaminate cooked food. 

How do I handle raw ground turkey safely?

If the thought of handling ground turkey makes you feel queasy, you’re not the only one! However, this can be a great ingredient to cook with, so it is worth trying to overcome your dislike of this meat paste.

When handling raw ground turkey, the most important thing to bear in mind is that it is vital to prevent any cross-contamination with other foods, containers, utensils, and work surfaces.

Before you handle the raw ground turkey, ensure that your hands are clean or use a pair of clean kitchen gloves. Use dedicated utensils and chopping boards just for raw meats to avoid the transfer of bacteria to other foodstuffs.

Once you have finished handling your ground turkey, ensure that the work surface and any utensils used are thoroughly cleaned.

You also need to clean the shelf of the fridge where your ground turkey was stored, and the container used to store your ground turkey.

Finally, wash your hands thoroughly using soap or hand wash for at least 20 seconds.

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