How Long Can You Keep A Fresh Turkey In The Refrigerator?

How long can you keep a fresh turkey in the refrigerator? Fresh turkeys are delicious and nutritious. They are also very versatile. Whether you want to serve them at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, they can be prepared in countless ways. 

How Long Can You Keep A Fresh Turkey In The Refrigerator

A turkey is a large bird that has both dark meat and white meat. The breast meat is leaner than the thigh meat, but both are very tasty. If you want to enjoy a delicious festive meal without having to defrost anything, then you should definitely consider buying a fresh turkey. 

But before you start cooking, you should know how long you can keep a fresh turkey in your refrigerator. 

In this article, we will take a look at how long the turkey lasts in the refrigerator. While also showcasing the best methods to freeze and store the turkey once it has been cooked. 

So if you want to learn more about the limitations of turkey meat, this article has everything you need to get started… 

How Long Can Fresh Turkey Last In The Refrigerator? 

When you buy a fresh turkey from the grocery store, there’s usually an expiration date on the package. This means that the turkey was harvested within a certain time frame. 

The USDA recommends placing the turkey in the refrigerator, where it should remain fresh for 1 – 2 days. If you exceed this time limit, the meat could become dry and show signs of spoilage. 

For the best results, we recommend storing the turkey in the coldest part of the fridge. However, if you are unable to cook the bird within 48 hours, it will need to be frozen instead. 

What’s The Difference Between Sell-By & Use-By? 

When purchasing a turkey, you should never use the sell-by date to determine its freshness, as these guidelines have been established for the benefit of the sellers. 

However, if you see a turkey with a use-by date, then you can follow it as a guideline to store the bird in the fridge. 

In most cases, the turkey should remain fresh in the refrigerator until the date displayed. Especially when the package is left unopened and the refrigerator is set below 40 degrees. 

If you can’t cook the turkey in the noted time, then it will need to be frozen so that you can use it at a later date. 

How Long Does Turkey Stay Fresh In The Refrigerator? 

Once the turkey has been stored in the refrigerator, it should stay fresh for up to 2 days. But only if it has been stored correctly and without issue. 

It is advisable to cook and eat the turkey as soon as possible, even if that means immediately after you bring it home. 

In this instance, it is important to remember that we are discussing turkeys that have been purchased fresh from the store and not frozen turkeys that have been left to thaw. 

Despite this, the same rules apply. Once the frozen turkey has been defrosted, you will have 1 – 2 days to eat it before its quality begins to deteriorate. 

What Happens If You Store Fresh Turkey For More Than 2 Days? 

If you purchase a freshly slaughtered turkey and leave it in the refrigerator for longer than 2 days, then the meat may begin to spoil. 

This is because the enzymes responsible for breaking down proteins in the meat begin to break down the protein bonds. As a result, the meat becomes tough and unpalatable. 

When the turkey starts to spoil, it may display certain warning signs, such as a foul smell and unpleasant texture. While we don’t get sick from eating spoiled meat, it can ruin the flavor and make the overall experience unwelcoming. 

In most cases, eating spoiled meat can cause healthy adults to experience mild stomach pain. While children and the elderly could suffer from more severe illnesses. 

Because of this, spoiled turkey can pose a threat to the whole family, especially on festive occasions – such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. 

How Do Stores Make Turkey Last Longer? 

There are many ways stores can help keep your turkey fresh for a longer period of time. This includes using vacuum packaging or freezing the meat. 

How Long Can You Keep A Fresh Turkey In The Refrigerator (1)

Vacuum packaging involves sealing the turkey tightly inside an airtight bag. It prevents oxygen from entering the container and allows the turkey to retain moisture. 

Most grocery stores also use superior refrigeration techniques to keep the meat fresh. For example, commercial coolers are known to maintain their desired temperature and will even alert workers if their condition changes. 

Home refrigerators are incapable of doing this and will even get warmer the longer you open the door. For this reason, they don’t make the best storage when it comes to poultry. 

To combat this problem, you can keep the door closed as long as possible. It is also possible to store the turkey in a larger fridge if you have the space and equipment. 

For the best results, the bird should be stored at the back of the refrigerator and on the lower shelf. You can also use a pan to catch any juices or runoff. 

How Long Does Cooked Turkey Last In The Fridge?

In most cases, cooked poultry (such as turkey) should be kept in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days. However, the meat will need to be sealed in an airtight container and stored in the coldest area of the fridge.

By following this method, you should be able to keep the meat edible for 4 days. However, it is also possible to freeze the leftovers before that time is up. 

These guidelines are only compatible with the turkey that you have cooked yourself, as deli meat can last in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. This is because deli meat has been treated with additives, which work to extend its freshness and shelf-life. 

How To Freeze Fresh Turkey 

The best way to preserve fresh turkey is by freezing it. This works well for both raw and cooked meats. When frozen, the meat retains all of its nutrients and tastes great. 

It is important to follow these steps when freezing turkey:

1. Set aside 5 – 6 layers of plastic wrap. Then wash your hands before handling the raw bird. 

2. Using the plastic wrap, cover the turkey until nothing is exposed. For this, you may need to use multiple layers until the turkey is completely wrapped. The multiple layers will help to keep the turkey fresh, while also protecting the surface from freezer burn. 

3. Store the turkey in the deepest and coldest part of the freezer. For the best results, we recommend thawing the bird within 1 year. If you wait longer than this, then the bird could begin to spoil or deteriorate. 

4. It is also important to regularly check the temperature of your freezer, which should be maintained at 0 degrees. 

How To Freeze Cooked Turkey

Cooking turkeys takes some extra effort, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve done so, you’ll want to freeze the leftover meat. 

This process is very similar to freezing raw turkey, except the bird needs to be refrigerated within 2 hours. We suggest using the same methods described above, but instead of wrapping the turkey in plastic wrap, place it in a large ziplock bag. 

During this process, make sure to squeeze out as much air from the bag as possible. Otherwise, you could damage the quality of the bird. 

It is advisable to label the contents of each bag so that you know what it contains and how long it has been in the freezer. The turkey will need to be thawed within 6 months. 

Final Thoughts 

Fresh turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 – 2 days before it needs to be cooked. If you leave it longer than this time, the meat could begin to spoil and lose its quality. In worst-case scenarios, it is also possible to freeze the turkey, which should make it last about a year before it starts to deteriorate.

John Rinder
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