How Long Is Ground Turkey Good in the Freezer? (Explained!)

November 30, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

I'll start straightforward with the question you're asking, "how long is ground turkey good in the freezer?" According to the USDA, you can keep ground turkey frozen indefinitely without it going bad. But if you want the best quality and great-tasting meat, pull it out after 3 to 4 months.

The shelf life usually depends on the expiration date sell-by date and the condition of the meat before freezing it. Your freezer won't help if your ground turkey is bad already. It's garbage in, garbage out.

You probably had thanksgiving day or Christmas planned nice and perfect. But then, things went south quickly after discovering mold or a gray spot on the meat. I've been there before. I'll show you how I've been ensuring my turkey doesn’t go bad in the freezer again. I’ll also tell you how long you should keep it. 

How Long Is Ground Turkey Good in the Freezer?

Ground turkey can be stored in the freezer for as long as four months especially if the cold chain isn't broken. Remember, this is the same storage period I recommend for ground beef.

The question of how long is frozen turkey good depends on whether the ground turkey was raw before freezing or if it's a leftover that had already been cooked. Already cooked ground turkey will have a shelf life of around three months in the freezer before it starts to change taste or go bad. 

In any case, the ground or raw ground turkey will stay longer when you freeze it all in one big chunk. But I advise that you divide the whole ground meat into smaller parts. So you can take only what you need, thaw, and cook it. This way, you will not expose the entire frozen ground turkey each time you need to cook some. 

Why Does It Matter?

It's important to know how long meat can remain frozen to avoid the texture deteriorating during storage. 

Exposed meats may deteriorate if exposed to room temp. The meat that is ground exposes more surface area than any meat that's still intact. 

This type of meat has a lot of moist internal surfaces that are exposed to air and microbes than whole turkey cuts. The exposure makes them accessible to microbes. And the moistness is one of the factors (including warmth and protein environment) that makes the meat a perfect bacteria breeding ground.  

That's why the meat has to be packed seconds after it's minced and dumped in the freezer immediately.  

When stored in subzero temperatures, the bacteria are hibernated or inactivated and will no longer be able to grow as they should. But once the food thaws out, the bacteria come back alive. 

That’s why once you thaw foods and do the edibility check, you have to cook the meat as soon as you can.

How Long Is Ground Turkey Good in the Fridge?

According to the USDA, fresh, uncooked ground turkey can be stored for a day to two in the refrigerator. A few hours after the recommended time frame, the meat may not show any visible sign of spoilage but the taste and flavor may change. 

Ground turkeys aren't as durable as whole turkeys. It oxidizes quickly because it's more sensitive to air. However, you can buy raw ground turkey and keep it in the fridge if you have plans to cook it in two days.  

Normally, you should refrigerate it for the stipulated number of days, but cooking it is better a few minutes after bringing it home. 

Tips 

  • Ground turkey is properly stored cool and dry at 40 degrees and below in the refrigerator.
  • The glass shelf above the crisper is best for storing raw ground turkey as the temperature in the fridge is lowest there.
  • It is best to pack the turkey in an airtight plastic or glass container.
  • Raw ground turkey should not be stored at room temperature and should be refrigerated immediately and consistently after purchase to prevent bacteria proliferation.
  • The shelf life is influenced by the fat content of the meat (the leaner it is, the longer the meat can be kept).
  • Frozen ground turkey is best thawed in the refrigerator and used within a day.
Mixing Ground Turkey with Eggs and Herbs

How Long to Keep Cooked Ground Turkey?

You can keep cooked or roasted ground turkey in the refrigerator for three to four days at less than 40 degrees. In the freezer, the shelf life is extended to two to three months (if the turkey meat is of the best quality).

Tip: You should store ground turkey within two hours of cooking or roasting, of course after it has cooled. 

How Do You Know if Ground Turkey is Spoiled?

Fresh raw ground turkey is light pink and should glisten a bit, looking as though they are moist. Ground turkey is bad if it has shown a gray color.

Raw turkey is almost odorless and has a glossy color and a firm surface. Bad ground turkey has a sour odor and may have a slimy texture. The slimy texture is not often seen in constantly frozen foods. If it has indeed gone bad, the color may fade and turn gray.

If you gave a ground turkey a sniff and it seems to be a little off, this is a good time to throw it away. 

Also, ground meat with mold should be disposed of immediately! After ground turkey thaws or goes past the freezing time frame, these are some things I'm sure you'll want to look for before consuming to avoid food poisoning or bacterial contamination. 

How to Store Ground Turkey in the Freezer?

To have your food properly stored, the temperatures should not exceed zero degrees. I mean zero degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius). Zero degrees Fahrenheit is truly the subzero temperature and the best for freezing food including ground turkey. 

For storage, freezer bags, aluminum foil, plastic wrap or Tupperware is essential. The plastic wrap can hold juices that could affect other food items you store in your refrigerator before the meat starts to freeze. It also helps prevent freezer burn, which might change the taste of the food.

Ground turkey is best divided into smaller pieces and frozen so you don't break the cold chain when trying to check the pack or take some for cooking. 

Can You Freeze Ground Turkey After Thawing?

Like most raw meat, raw ground turkey can be refrozen after defrosting in the refrigerator, according to the USDA. 

However, any cooked turkey that was defrosted without a refrigerator, i.e. in the microwave or water bath, should be cooked and consumed immediately

Make sure the meat is not thawed multiple times and then keep refreezing it. You'll break the cold chain and end up with a tasteless dish or one that has changed taste. This phenomenon not only happens when you take the frozen meat out of the freezer or you open the wrap, aluminum foil, or whatever you have. 

Opening the freezer now and then and power outages (even for short periods) can cause the temperature in the freezer to rise. As soon as this starts to happen, you should have it cooked immediately for consumption. If the ground meat doesn't go bad (at least not physically), you may not like the taste. 

Cooking Ground Turkey

How to Defrost Raw Frozen Turkey?

When you defrost turkey and meat in general, you want a perfect result. It's better you do it using the defroster in your fridge. When cooked, partially defrosted meat is less able to cook evenly. This can also cause contamination. 

But to ensure that the turkey is completely thawed, it's best to defrost them slowly using these steps:

Thawing Frozen Turkey in the Microwave

Ground turkey can be defrosted faster using the microwave. This is not possible for turkeys of large size though. It may not be possible to stuff all the meat in the microwave. However, if the meat is ground, you can defrost it in batches. 

To defrost it, just remove the box and wrappings. Then pour the turkey grounds into an oven-safe bowl. 

Use the defrost setting on the microwave if it has a dedicated button. If your microwave doesn't have a defrosting function, you can set the microwave to run at 20 to 30 percent power with the power level button. After it finishes thawing, you have to start cooking immediately.

Thawing Frozen Turkey in Cold Water

The simplest way to thaw raw ground turkey is to soak them in warm to cold tap water. It works faster than the fridge method. 

To try this method, put the turkeys in a waterproof and airtight wrapping. Then soak in cold water. You have to keep it pressed down in the water with your hand or something heavy because it will float. 

Make sure you change the cold water after every 30 mins until you have the ground turkey fully defrosted. Similar to microwave mode, you need to have the turkey cooked immediately once the defrosting is complete to avoid rapid bacterial growth.

The Fridge Method of Thawing Frozen Turkey

Of course, I kept the best for the last. The most effective way of thawing a turkey is by putting it in the fridge

To thaw the frozen ground turkey using this method, place it with the original packaging or wrappings on a plate. Then place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge. 

The ground meat is thawed at a gradually reduced and safe temperature. The downside is that this method takes time. It takes between a full day to four to completely thaw depending on the weight. Even ground turkey with the original packaging and wraps removed will take up to a day to fully thaw.

But you can see the fridge defrosting method requires fewer oversight and only needs you to leave the turkey to cool down. 

Can Ground Turkey Go Bad in the Freezer?

When food in general – including raw ground turkey – is frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be kept safe indefinitely in the freezer without rotting. 

It's the same reason we could find human bodies like Otzi in the Alps naturally preserved and mummified in amazing conditions for more than 5,000 years. 

However, in any case, since we're talking about food, the freezing temperature should not fluctuate or be interrupted. At worse, it's just the taste and quality of the meat that will change, which is why I advise consuming it within 4 months maximum. 

If you put the turkey in an airtight container, it will be safe to eat and not change taste for at least 2 months. It gets bad quickly when air (especially warm) starts to enter the container. 

This causes freezer burn and hence, a bad ground turkey that's only fit for the dumpster. Otherwise, cooked or raw ground turkey is an easy-to-store freezer food.

Ground Turkey Meat in a Bowl

Is Turkey Still Good If Frozen for 2 years?

Some experts believe raw ground turkey will remain good for consumption after 2 years of freezing without interruption. 

According to the USDA, all food can be frozen indefinitely if the freezing requirements are met. The recommended freezer time is only for the best quality of the meat. 

Conclusion 

Similar to any food, the reason for freezing cooked or raw ground turkey is so you can keep them for longer. This can happen because of many different reasons. Perhaps you ended up with a lot of leftovers in raw or cooked form after taking what you need. It's no problem.

For how long is ground turkey good in the freezer? As I said, you can freeze them for two to four months, depending on conditions such as packaging, freshness, and the sell-by date. 

If you want, you may freeze it well above this stipulated time frame if the cold chain isn't interrupted. However, that's not the kind of turkey you should eat for Thanksgiving or Christmas. The quality is usually long gone. And if the freezing is interrupted during a long haul freezing, just throw the meat away. Don't even hand it to your dogs!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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