How to Know If Ground Turkey is Bad: The Telltale Signs

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The three main signs to look out for with bad ground turkey are the rotten egg smell, a greyish or green tinge to the meat, or a slimy texture.

How many times have you taken a batch of ground turkey that has been in the fridge for a while and wondered if you should roll the dice and just cook it? I have had my fair share of those moments before I trained as a chef. Luckily, I was taught how to spot the telltale signs and now I am here to help you out.

In this post, I am going to show you how to know if ground turkey is bad with three simple tests. I am also going to educate you on proper storage and defrosting methods. Let’s get started!

How to Know If Ground Turkey is Bad

How Can You Tell If Raw Ground Turkey is Bad?

Here are some of the signs that your ground turkey is bad:

The Odor

The easiest way to tell if ground turkey is bad is to smell ground turkey. If there is any sulfuric smell (a bit like rotten eggs) to the raw ground turkey then it has gone bad.

Keep in mind that this is true even if the odor is mild. Now, in some cases, this sulfuric odor may not be present. Instead, the raw ground will have a sour smell or simply smell off.

In case you are wondering:

What should ground turkey smell like?

Raw ground turkey has a very mild smell to it – in fact, it won’t smell like much at all.

The Appearance

The next best way to figure out if the raw ground turkey is bad is to take a close look at the meat. Fresh ground turkey will be a light pink color. If there is any kind of color change, like if the ground turkey has white or green patches. This could indicate that mold has set in.

You should also steer clear of ground turkey that has a greyish tinge to it.

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The Texture

Another thing that you can try is to touch the meat. The surface of the raw ground turkey may have a slimy texture. It may also feel sticky or tacky to the touch.

Past Use By Date

Most fresh ground turkey comes with a label with an use by date. As the name suggests, you should cook the meat by this date or have frozen it.

If you haven’t done either of these things and the use by date has passed, then it is time to toss the ground meat out.

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Can Ground Turkey Go Bad in the Store?

Now, you may think that you only need to learn to tell if ground turkey is bad once the meat has been brought home. However, this isnt the case at all!

The reality is that it is possible for the ground turkey to go bad while it is in the store. If the meat wasn’t stored at the proper temperature throughout, then it is possible for the bacteria growth to set in.

So, it is worth it to look for any discoloration on the meat before you buy it. What’s more, if you come home, unwrap the meat, and find that it has a sour smell, then toss the meat out immediately.

Cooking Ground Turkey on the Stove

Can Ground Turkey Go Bad in the Refrigerator?

The answer once again is a resounding yes – your meat can go bad in the refrigerator temperature. It is important to keep in mind that even with well-sealed and properly stored ground turkey, that some bacteria has settled in.

While storing the ground turkey in the fridge for up to two days can keep it safe, the bacteria will begin to multiply after this. So, if you store your ground turkey past the use by date, then it can go bad in the refrigerator.

How to Know If Cooked Ground Turkey is Bad?

Like you need to know if uncooked ground turkey is bad, you should also know how to tell if cooked ground turkey is bad as well.

For the most part, the same signs apply. If cooked ground turkey has gone bad, then it is going to have an off smell, much like rotten eggs. You may also find discoloration on the ground turkey. Last, but not least, it may feel slimy or slippery to the touch.

The Dangers of Spoiled Ground Turkey

If I’m being honest, I hate to throw food out – I just can’t bear the thought of it going to waste, especially now as food is getting more expensive.

In case you are like me, you want to know what is so bad about spoiled ground turkey.

Well, the reality is that ground turkey that has gone bad can be more dangerous than spoiled meat. This is true for other ground meats like ground beef.

The reason for this is how ground turkey is processed. At the factory, the meat is passed through a grinder. If there is any bacteria on the grinder or on a small portion of the turkey, this is passed to the entire surface area of the ground turkey.

As a result, the bacterial growth rate will be much higher. In turn, the risk of food poisoning is a lot greater.

Trust me, what you may save in money on your ground meat can’t possibly compare to the hospital bills that you can rack up if you get a foodborne illness. You should also be aware that young children and the elderly are at a greater risk of getting severely sick.

So, to answer the question:

What happens if you eat bad ground turkey?

You can get very, very sick.

What Happens When You Cook Bad Ground Turkey?

This is one of the most common questions I get when I give my lecture about spoiled turkey meat.

And, this is fair enough. After all, one of the reasons that you cook ground turkey is to kill the bacteria that may be present on it.

Well, here is the thing about spoiled ground turkey. If you are at the point where you can tell if ground turkey is bad, then this means that the bacteria has not only multiplied, it has also begun to produce toxins.

While the bacteria itself can be killed by heat, the toxins are heat resistant. This means that you can still get sick if you eat spoiled ground turkey that has been cooked. This is true no matter how thoroughly you cook the meat.

Cooked Ground Turkey with Ham and Coriander

How to Prevent Ground Turkey From Going Bad?

The best way to prevent bacteria from taking over your ground turkey is to store it properly – freezing it.

So, how long can you freeze ground turkey for?

You can freeze ground turkey for about 3 to 4 months. I like to use it up by around the 2 month mark as I find that this helps to maintain both the taste and texture.

Step 1: Check the Use by Date or Sell By Date

Start by looking at the use by date on the ground turkey package. This will let you know when the ground meat needs to be used up by.

If this information isn’t available, then you can find the sell by date. On average, you should use up your fresh ground turkey between one to two days after brining it home, if the fresh meat is being kept in the refrigerator.

Step 2: Wrap the Meat

To freeze ground turkey, keep the ground turkey meat in its original packaging. Then, use either freezer paper, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a freezer bag to wrap the ground turkey.

Personally, I prefer the freezer bag. Place the ground turkey in the bag and squeezed all the air out of the bag and then seal the bag tightly. This prevents freezer burn.

If using foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, then wrap the material around the ground turkey tightly and create a tight seal.

Step 3: Freeze the Ground Turkey

I like to label the ground turkey with the date that I am freezing it. This way I know by when it needs to be used up.

How to Thaw Frozen Ground Turkey?

Like it is important to freeze ground turkey properly, it is just as important to defrost ground turkey as well.

Keep in mind that there are safe ways to do this so that you reduce the risk of food poisoning. Here are your top options:

Defrosting Ground Turkey in the Refrigerator

This is the safest way to thaw frozen ground turkey, ground poultry, and even ground beef. This is because the meat stays at a low temperature throughout the defrosting process, and there is no air exposure. This greatly reduces the risk of food poisoning.

Simply place the frozen minced meat in a container. Then, keep in the back of the refrigerator until fully defrosted. Depending on the quantity of meat, this may take from several hours to a day or two.

Defrosting Ground Turkey in a Cold Water Bath

Of course, if you are like me, you struggle to plan your meals out quite so far ahead in advance. In this case, you can try the cold water bath method.

Here, place the minced meat in a container that is large enough to hold it. If you have only wrapped the turkey in freezer paper of aluminum foil, then make sure to place it in a freezer bag first.

Then, pour in cold tap water – make sure that the turkey is submerged. The water must be very cold – it is the only way to ensure that the meat will defrost safely. Wait for 30 minutes and empty out the water. Then, fill up the container with cold water once more.

Repeat this process until the meat is fully defrosted. This should only take a couple of hours.

frozen ground turkey in a container

A Note About Defrosting Ground Turkey in the Microwave

Now, you may be wondering if you can defrost ground turkey in the microwave. After all, this is a simple and quick way to do so.

However, I am going to advise you against this. There area few different issues with the microwave. First, it results in uneven cooking. So, while some parts of the minced turkey may end up defrosted, there are other parts that may be frozen solid and other portions that are cooked all the way through.

Also, as the ground turkey is defrosted at warm temperatures, there is a higher chance of foodborne illness.

Wrapping It Up

There you go – you now know how to tell if ground turkey is bad, regardless of whether it is raw or cooked. Now that you know the main techniques, you can greatly reduce your risk of food poisoning and enjoy peace of mind with every batch of food you cook!

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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