Storing food in the freezer is a great way to prolong its shelf life. It has its drawbacks, though, since you shouldn’t keep it in there indefinitely. This is especially true of ground meat products.
How long is ground turkey good in the freezer, and how long should you expect it to keep in the fridge? We have the answers to these questions—and many more.
How Long is Ground Turkey Good in the Freezer?
Ground turkey should maintain its quality in the freezer for up to 4 months when it’s still raw and 3 months once it’s cooked. After that, the freezing temperatures will start to leach moisture out of the meat. For best results, freeze ground turkey within 3 days of the initial purchase.
About Ground Turkey
To make ground turkey, food processors feed the meat through a grinder to give it a softer consistency. It resembles ground beef in appearance, except it’s lighter in color due to the leaner meat.
The lower fat content also makes it more difficult to form into patties. However, this same quality draws many consumers to substitute ground turkey for ground beef, as it’s a healthier choice that’s still high in protein.
Ground turkey usually consists of both white and dark meat, often with bits of skin and fat added to boost the flavor and improve the texture. It’s possible to find ground turkey that’s made out of breast meat alone, and this product is even leaner.
Speaking of fat content, the standard ratio for ground turkey is 93 percent meat to 7 percent fat. Some products that contain only white meat might have a ratio of 99 percent meat to just 1 percent fat.
Because of its mild flavor profile, ground turkey provides an excellent palette for bolder ingredients. We recommend mixing the meat with capers, minced parsley, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and beaten egg to make savory turkey burgers.
Why It Matters
It’s important to know how long your meat will keep in the freezer because you don’t want the texture to suffer as a result of the storage.
Exposure to freezing temperatures can cause the meat to dry out. When meat is ground, more of its surface area is exposed to the air, no matter how tightly you wrap it. That means it will dry out faster than whole muscle cuts, especially large ones.
In theory, food will keep indefinitely when you keep it in the freezer. At subzero temperatures, the bacteria that cause food to spoil will stop growing. But in practice, it’s better to thaw and cook off meat products as soon as you have the time.
How Long is Ground Turkey Good in the Freezer?
This depends on whether the ground turkey was raw when you put it in the freezer, or if you’re talking about cooked leftover meat.
Granted, it’s a similar time frame. But you have a bit more leeway with raw ground turkey because the meat has a higher moisture content than it would if you’d cooked it first.
For raw ground turkey, plan on thawing and cooking it within 3 to 4 months at most. It will keep longer if you froze it all in one big chunk, but forming it into smaller portions might be more convenient, as you can thaw only as much as you plan to cook.
Once the ground turkey is cooked, don’t try to keep it in the freezer for longer than 2 to 3 months. When meat cooks, it loses a great deal of its natural moisture. An extended stay in the freezer will give the turkey the consistency of sawdust.
Note that the amount of time the turkey will stay fresh after thawing may vary, depending on how long you kept it in the fridge beforehand.
If you froze the meat right away, you should have up to 3 days to cook it before it starts to deteriorate. If you waited 3 days before storing it in the freezer, you’ll want to cook it as soon as it thaws to avoid spoilage.
How Long is Ground Turkey Good in the Fridge?
Similar rules apply to ground meat products that are stored in the fridge. They don’t last as long as whole muscle cuts because more of the surface area is exposed to the air. Since bacteria breed on the surface, this can be problematic.
Plan on buying ground turkey no more than 2 days before you plan on cooking it. It should keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, but it’s better to cook it as soon as possible after bringing it home.
Keep the turkey in its original packaging until you’re ready to prep the meat. If you unwrap it and form it into patties or meatballs before putting it back in the fridge, make sure to wrap it again as tightly as you can.
After cooking the ground turkey, refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours, or 1 hour on particularly hot days. Prolonged exposure to room temperature will hasten the growth of bacteria.
You’ll have about 3 to 4 days to enjoy those leftovers before the turkey starts to deteriorate. So cooking the meat will buy you a little bit of time, even if you don’t plan on eating it straight away.
Whether you’re freezing the ground turkey in a raw or cooked state, put it in the freezer as soon as you know you won’t have time to eat it within the prescribed time frame. That way, it will be in better condition when you do get around to thawing it.
How To Tell When Ground Turkey Has Gone Bad
Ground turkey exhibits all the same signs of spoilage as other meat products. For some reason, we find rotten poultry to be even more objectionable than other meats, although of course you need to discard spoiled meat no matter what it is.
When ground turkey spoils, it usually gives off a foul odor. It can be so bad that you’ll notice it as soon as you open the door of the fridge. If you catch even a whiff of sourness or rotten eggs, it’s too late to save the meat.
Even if it smells fine, inspect the color. Ground turkey is pale peach to pink in color when it’s fresh. Any brown or gray patches indicate that the meat has been in storage too long. Hints of green or blue indicate mold growth and are a sure sign of spoilage.
The texture is another factor to consider. Raw ground turkey is moist and slightly tacky, but it shouldn’t feel slimy or overly sticky. Don’t eat the meat if you notice any of these signs.
Never be tempted to taste ground turkey if you suspect it has gone bad. Even if the meat is already cooked, discard it if it smells sour, changes color, or develops a slimy texture.
How Long Does it Take to Defrost Ground Turkey?
It takes 12 to 24 hours for a pound of raw ground turkey to thaw in the fridge. As a rule of thumb, you should take it out of the freezer the day before you plan to cook it.
If the meat was formed into patties before hitting the freezer, it will thaw more quickly. You could probably get away with cooking these off the same day you remove them from the freezer, especially if you take them out early in the morning.
The refrigerator is our preferred technique for thawing meat products. It’s safer and more consistent than other methods, and you’ll have some wiggle room in terms of when you have to start cooking.
Set the wrapped ground turkey on a plate to catch any liquid that might seep out of the package. Place this plate on the bottom shelf of the fridge until the meat has defrosted.
If you need to thaw the meat more quickly, submerge the wrapped ground turkey in a cold water bath. A pound of ground turkey should thaw in 30 minutes to 1 hour when you use this technique, but change out the water after 30 minutes in any case.
The microwave is another acceptable method, but we’re not crazy about it because the results can be so inconsistent. If you’re not careful, portions of the ground meat will cook through while the rest is still defrosting, which can spell doom for your plans.
If you need to thaw the meat in a hurry, though, use the defrost setting on your microwave. It should take 7 to 8 minutes to thaw a pound of ground turkey.
You’ll need to remove the meat from its wrapping before putting it in the microwave. The materials used in the packaging are not heat resistant. Place the ground turkey on a microwave-safe plate or platter for defrosting.
For microwaves that don’t have a defrost setting, set the unit to operate at 30 percent power. This will mimic the benefits of the defrost setting.
Make sure the unit is rotating the meat inside. If it isn’t, rotate it yourself after 3 to 4 minutes to ensure even thawing.
One final note: Never thaw ground turkey—or any meat product—on the counter. The meat shouldn’t be at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, whether or not it was frozen to begin with.
Can You Refreeze Ground Turkey After Thawing?
It’s permissible to refreeze ground turkey as long as you used the refrigerator for defrosting. Any meat that’s been defrosted in the microwave or a cold water bath will need to be cooked off right away.
Be forewarned that multiple thawing and freezing procedures can dry out the meat, so try not to refreeze the ground turkey more than once. Also, if it was already in the fridge for 3 days after thawing, it’s probably too late to refreeze it at that point.
Can You Cook Ground Turkey Without Thawing It First?
Many people don’t realize that it’s fine to cook meat without defrosting it beforehand. The key is to ensure that it cooks to a safe internal temperature. While cooking meat from a frozen state takes longer, it shouldn’t do any harm.
Estimate that the ground turkey will take about 50 percent longer to cook when it’s still frozen to begin with. Since turkey burgers should cook for a total of 10 to 12 minutes, you should plan on a 15- to 18-minute cooking time for frozen ones.
When browning ground turkey in a skillet, the process takes 14 to 18 minutes. If you add the meat to the skillet when it’s still frozen, expect it to take 21 to 27 minutes to reach the proper internal temp.
The Bottom Line
Try not to keep ground turkey in the freezer for too long. It will be juicier and more enjoyable overall if the storage period is a short one. Mark the package with the date before you stick it in the freezer, and take it out within a couple of months.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!