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How Long Does Turkey Last? | Raw vs. Cooked

Whether it’s Thanksgiving or another festive occasion, it’s good to know precisely how long it will last. Frozen raw turkey or leftovers in the fridge are the most common shelf life questions I hear. So, I asked the USDA for the exact storage times for turkey, and this is what I found out.

Raw turkey meat will stay fresh for up to 2 days if stored in the refrigerator and a year in the freezer (4 months if ground). Once cooked, turkey will last 3-4 days in the fridge up to 4 months in the freezer. Both raw and cooked turkey lasts only up to 2 hours at room temperature.

Turkey TypeRoom TemperatureRefrigeratorFreezer
Raw Turkey2 HoursUp to 2 DaysUp to 12 Months
Raw Ground Turkey2 HoursUp to 2 DaysUp to 4 Months
Cooked Turkey2 HoursUp to 4 DaysUp to 4 Months
Unopened Lunch Meat2 HoursUp to 2 WeeksUp to 2 Months
Opened Lunch Meat2 HoursUp to 5 DaysUp to 2 Months
Source: USDA

To learn more about how long sliced deli turkey lasts, go here.

The rest of this article will cover in greater detail:

  • How long raw vs. cooked turkey lasts.
  • What to look for to be able to identify if turkey has gone bad.
  • Optimal storage techniques.

How Long Does Uncooked Turkey Last in the Fridge?

It’s generally agreed upon not to keep uncooked turkey meat in the fridge longer than 1 to 2 days. This isn’t to say that you can’t stretch it a bit by a day or so. Still, in an abundance of caution, thawed turkey doesn’t keep very long before it starts developing harmful bacteria that could lead to food poisoning if you question it, it’s probably a good idea to throw it out.

If you put a frozen turkey into the fridge, you can extend its refrigerated shelf life up to 3 to 4 days, as it will take 1 to 2 days to thaw thoroughly. Always be extra cautious when storing meats, especially poultry.

How Many Days Is Turkey Good After Cooking?

Turkey is most tasty immediately after being cooked. Texture, taste, and moisture levels begin to deteriorate rapidly upon refrigeration. Aesthetics and safety are two separate concepts, however. Here are a few guidelines for different types of turkey:

  • Cooked turkey can be safely stored in the refrigerator after it is cooked for 3 to 4 days.
  • Cured or smoked turkey will last 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge and up to a year frozen. Curing with salt or smoking meat always extends their usability.
  • Dehydrated turkey made into jerky can be stored for 2 to 3 months either refrigerated or in a cool, dry place like a pantry or root cellar if you seal it in an airtight container. Once you open this container, however, make sure you consume the jerky within 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Turkey will last up to 1 entire year in the freezer. Theoretically, you can freeze meats longer, but freezer burn and deterioration of flavor begin to make it unpalatable around this time frame.
Cut Up Turkey on a Platter

How Long Does Turkey Stay Good in the Fridge?

Thawed and raw turkey shouldn’t sit in your refrigerator for longer than 1 to 2 days. If you don’t expect to cook it within this time frame, you should throw the turkey into the freezer. I recommend getting good airtight storage containers like these found on Amazon. They will help maximize the shelf life of your turkey.

Freezing, thawing, and refreezing will result in a loss of quality, but that’s a lot better than getting an awful case of food poisoning. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Cooked turkey and other cooked meats shouldn’t be refrigerated longer than 3 to 4 days unless they are otherwise preserved or vacuum-sealed.

How Long Does Sliced Turkey Breast Last in the Fridge? (Does Being Sliced Make a Difference?)

Sliced turkey can be safely consumed 7 to 10 days past its sell-by date, presuming that it is packaged in a sealed container. Once it has been opened or if it was purchased from a deli where it was freshly sliced, it should be used within 5 days. Frozen sliced deli meats can be stored for 1 year.

Slicing increases the turkey’s total surface area, allowing for a higher chance for bacteria to form. Deli-sliced turkey tends to be processed by salting or curing, which increases the overall shelf life, but in general, when you slice meat, it shortens its window to be eaten safely.

How Long Will Turkey Last in the Freezer?

Turkey will last up to 1 year in your freezer. Vacuum sealing and preservation may grant you a little extra wiggle room. The USDA says that if it is uniformly frozen at 0° F with no fluctuation in that temperature, it can be stored indefinitely.

It’s important to note that freezing turkey may cause ice crystals to form in the muscle tissue. This results in tougher meat when it comes time to cook it. Although it’s perfectly safe to freeze meats, color and flavor may also suffer when freezing turkey for long periods.

How Long Can Cooked Turkey Sit Out?

You should never let turkey sit out longer than 2 hours at room temperature. If in a warm area of 90° F or higher, make sure your turkey doesn’t sit out longer than 1 hour. Do not thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature longer than this. It’s best to thaw turkey in a bowl of cold water or the refrigerator.

Allowing your turkey to sit out longer than 2 hours puts it at risk of entering what’s known as the “danger zone,” which are temperatures between 40 and 140° F. Harmful bacteria can form in this temperature range. Leaving any meat out longer than 2 hours is practically begging for an awful case of preventable food poisoning.

How Can You Tell If a Turkey Is Bad?

Always confer to the sell-by date. Turkey doesn’t last longer than 3 to 4 days past this date. Otherwise, there are a couple of tell-tale signs that will tell you whether your turkey is still good.

  • Turkey that has gone bad will sometimes develop a slimy film on the outside or on its skin.
  • You might also be able to use your nose to determine whether your turkey has gone past it’s prime. Bad turkey sometimes smells like rotten eggs but also be on the lookout for a vinegar, sour, sulfur, or wet-dog smell.
  • Turkey may start to brown or lose its color when it goes bad. Be aware of any noticeable visible changes your turkey meat undergoes. A fresh turkey should be slightly pink, with no major smell.

Prolonging the Shelf Life

Extra care and attention should be paid to properly storing poultry like turkey since it has a high potential for developing harmful bacteria. Preservation techniques such as curing, smoking, dehydrating, and vacuum sealing are the best way to store turkey for extended periods.

How Do You Store Leftover Cooked Turkey?

Store leftover turkey in an airtight container such as these found on Amazon or a ziplock baggie. If you are storing your turkey in the refrigerator, make sure it’s tucked away in the coldest section.

Pro Tip: The best way to freeze or refrigerate turkey is by vacuum sealing it. This prolongs its shelf-life and preserves its flavor and texture.

If you are freezing your turkey, make sure that it’s not exposed to open air. Oxidization causes freezer burn.

Keep it separate: When you have leftovers from Thanksgiving or Christmas, make sure you store your turkey separately from the other leftover items like stuffing or mashed potatoes. This will prolong each item’s storage shelf life.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article has been helpful. Happy turkey eating!

Thanks for stoppin’ by.

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss How Long Can You Freeze a Turkey For? | Storage Guide.