Have you ever bought some turkey and realized you won’t be able to eat it all before the expiration date? Or are you wondering how long before Christmas you can get your turkey? If so, like with roast chicken, you may ask yourself, how long can you keep ground turkey in the freezer? How to freeze and thaw it properly, so you can safely eat your frozen bird.
Can you freeze ground turkey?
It is safe to store ground turkey in the freezer. However, you should freeze it within 2 days of purchase. If it is nearing its expiration date, you need to freeze it no more than 2 days from the date of sale. Freezing prevents bacteria from growing on the turkey but cannot kill the bacteria, so you need to freeze the turkey before it goes bad.
When in the freezer, the taste of turkey can change because the packaging of the turkey may not always be airtight, so it can soak up food odors from other dishes.
Further reading: What Are the Best Cheap Freezers for Home?
How long can you freeze ground turkey?
According to USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), ground turkey should be stored for 3-4 months in the freezer for optimum freshness.
But they say this storage period is for “best quality”. This means that ground turkey won’t necessarily be unsafe to eat after 3-4 months. But then, it won’t taste as good. Please note, the freezer should always be kept at 0°F or below.
Concerning safety, USDA guidelines state that if frozen continuously, ground turkey is safe to eat indefinitely. If frozen properly, bacteria that can cause disease will not be able to grow. However, with a home freezing situation, it can be difficult to be 100% certain that something has been kept completely frozen the entire time. Therefore, users should eat ground turkey within a year to be safe.
In short, turkey can degrade in quality and flavor over time. For best taste, best use within 4 months.
How to store ground turkey in the freezer properly
Ground turkey can be stored in the freezer in its original packaging when you bought it from the store. Check and make sure the seal is not broken.
But it may also be a good idea to wrap the turkey tightly in aluminum foil and place in a freezer-specific plastic bag.
Zippered freezer bags also work well but try to push as much air out as possible when you close the lid.
Vacuum bag systems are the best method if you have one. As they remove all the air out and you can store turkey for months and is the safest way to freeze.
Further reading: Which is the Best Vacuum Sealer to Keep Food Fresh?
Don’t forget to write the date on the bag and organize your freezer shelves by category.
Before you freeze raw, ground turkey, find the sale date. As mentioned, it’s best to freeze ground turkey within 2 days of purchase and no more than 2 days after sale.
Is frozen turkey as good as fresh?
If you buy frozen turkey from the store, there should be no difference in quality between fresh and frozen turkey. This is because they freezer turkeys immediately after packaging. The freezing process will then prevent the meat from decaying, so the frozen turkey should look exactly like it was when it was first packaged.
Things can get a little trickier when you’re freezing turkey that’s been bought fresh at home. When you freeze turkey, it will retain the qualities it had at the time you freeze it. So, if you leave your turkey in the fridge for about a day before freezing, it won’t return to full freshness after thawing. It may not taste as good as when eaten or frozen fresh.
How long is frozen turkey good for?
All meat is fine in the freezer indefinitely, but only if it’s been stored at 0°F consistently. This rule applies to meat that is stored at exactly 0°F without fluctuating, and meat must be uniformly frozen at that temperature to avoid harmful bacteria.
If your turkey is good when you freeze it and you defrost it properly, then you can eat it any time after freezing, whether it’s after two months, two or three years. You must maintain temperature at 0 degrees.
However, if you store cooked turkey, it will keep for up to 3-6 months in the freezer.
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How do you freeze a fresh turkey?
Raw turkey can be safely frozen for years but should be consumed within 3-4 months for optimal flavor and freshness.
For uncooked whole turkeys: You can freeze the turkey in its original packaging. No need to remove and re-wrap. However, you should add an additional layer of aluminum foil to the wrap to ensure that the turkey is not contaminated with food odors in the freezer.
For fresh turkey parts: You should use freezer bags or plastic wrap to seal the turkey parts before freezing. With both cases, you need to write the date on the bag or wrapper to know exactly when you put the turkeys in the freezer.
How long can you keep cooked turkey in the freezer?
There is no limit to how long you can freeze turkey, although you should use it within 3-6 months. After this time, it is still edible, but the quality may be reduced.
If you’ve previously defrosted and cooked turkey, you can re-freeze cooked leftovers once. Never re-freezing raw meat that has been defrosted.
Let the turkey completely cool down before going to freezer. It is important when refrigerating cooked meats that they are cooled to 21°C within two hours of cooking to prevent bacteria growth. You can cool meat in the refrigerator before freezing, but the meat must be chilled before doing this, so that the refrigerator temperature does not rise and affect the safety of other foods.
With cooked turkey leftovers, you should freeze them as soon as possible after eating – because the fresher the meat in the freezer, the fresher it will be when take it out. You should keep in mind:
- Make sure the leftovers are well wrapped – if not, food can lose moisture. This can lead to a condition known as ‘freezer burn’ which causes food to become dry and chewy – although food is still safe to eat, it may not taste as good.
- After defrosting cooked leftovers, they should be used within 24 hours and should not be refrozen.
- When freeze turkey leftovers, you should freeze by portion – it’s easy for you when use it later, you only defrost what you need.
Tips when freezing turkey
If you decide to freeze whole turkeys for a long time, keep these safety tips.
- Make sure your turkey is unopened.
- If you have a fresh turkey and want to freeze it for later use, put it in the freezer before the “use by” date on the package.
- The USDA recommends using frozen turkey within the first year of storage for best quality.
- With leftover turkey, you can freeze it in a freezer-safe container for up to six months if you don’t think you’ll eat it within four days of cold storage.
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How to thaw frozen turkey safely
According to USDA, there are several different and safe methods for safely defrosting turkey or any type of meat. What you choose to do will likely depend on what device and how much time you have:
Defrosting in the refrigerator: Simply place the meat in the refrigerator and let it thaw slowly. With this method, you should defrost 1 day for every 4-5 pounds of turkey to completely thaw. It takes you more time if the piece of meat is bigger.
If you don’t have a day or so to wait for your turkey to defrost, you can use other methods.
Thawing with cold water: Keep the turkey in an airtight container, a leak-proof plastic wrap or bag, where you’ll soak them in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to allow the meat to continue to defrost. Like defrosting in the refrigerator, this will take time. It may take you about 30 minutes per pound of the meat.
Using the microwave: This is the fastest method of defrosting but also the one that can cause the most problems. If defrosting in the microwave, you should cook the turkey immediately. Some parts of the turkey may have started to cook during the microwave process, and it is not safe to store partially cooked foods.
Therefore, it is recommended to cook food immediately after defrosting in microwave.
Should you defrost turkey at room temperature?
Thawing turkey at room temperature is not safe because that is the ideal temperature for bacteria to grow. There are many different types of bacteria that can grow on turkeys and can cause illness in humans. Many of these can be destroyed if the turkey is thoroughly cooked, but some are not.
So, you should never leave perishable food at room temperature for longer than two hours. In most cases, your turkey will take more than two hours to defrost, which is not safe for your food or your health. It can give you food poisoning, even if the turkey is thoroughly cooked afterwards.
How can you tell if frozen turkey is bad?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell if your turkey is spoiled by using your senses.
Smelling is a clear sign and with turkeys. When spoiled, it has a foul odor and is likely to smell like sulfur or rotten eggs.
Looking at a turkey is also a way to tell if it’s spoiled. If the skin can look slimy, it’s already spoiled.
The best way to tell if a turkey is still good is by texture and smell. If the turkey has a slimy texture and/or a sour smell, it’s probably not good anymore — regardless of the date on the package. So, if you give your turkey a sniff and everything seems a little out of the ordinary, now is the time to throw it away.
However, sometimes it is not possible to tell by the look and smell of the turkey whether it is contaminated. The danger is that some foodborne pathogens do not change the appearance of meat at all but can still make you sick.
Therefore, the best way to protect your health is to make sure you follow all recommendations for safe storage, defrosting and cooking.
Is it safe to re-freeze a thawed turkey?
It depends on how you defrost the turkey.
It is safe to refreeze a thawed turkey when you’ve defrosted it in the refrigerator. If that’s the case, you can put it back in the freezer right away, according to USDA. If your turkey is completely thawed, you can safely store it in the refrigerator for an extra day or two before refreezing. When you defrost the turkey a second time, you may notice a decrease in quality, but it will certainly be safe to eat.
On the other hand, if you defrost turkey in cold water or in the microwave, the USDA recommends cooking it right away. That’s because with either method, the turkey can warm to a temperature higher than 40°F. In this condition, harmful bacteria can begin to grow quickly, so it is not safe to refreeze thawed turkey.
Finally, if you defrost turkey on the counter or in hot water, you shouldn’t eat it at all. The USDA warns that it is very dangerous to eat any meat or poultry that is thawed by those two methods, because the outer layer of the food falls within the bacterial growth temperature (range of 40° F to 140° F) for too long. Meat is no longer safe to eat at all.
Can you cook a frozen turkey without thawing it first?
Yes. You can roast a frozen turkey in the oven without defrosting it first. You should not grill, smoke, deep-fry, or microwave frozen turkey.
You’ll need to spend extra cooking time as frozen turkey usually takes about 50% longer to cook than defrosted.
To determine if your cooked turkey is safe to eat, you should insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and check the turkey regularly. Turkey will be cooked safely when a food thermometer reaches an internal temperature of at least 165° F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
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Is it better to freeze raw or cooked turkey?
When frozen, raw meat and poultry maintain their quality longer than cooked meat. Therefore, turkey will taste better if it is frozen raw, thawed, then cooked just before serving. The main reason is that when you reheat, you will re-cook the chicken and moisture will lost during cooking.
However, you need to be careful. Storing raw food in the freezer means you can cross-contaminate or get bad bacteria into ready-to-eat food like ice cream. So, pack your raw turkey properly and arrange a separate area for it in the freezer.
How long can you keep a turkey in the fridge?
If you just bought some turkey at the store and its smell or texture seems fine, you may be wondering how long it will keep in the fridge. This all depends on whether it is cooked or not.
Any raw, ground meat, including turkey, you should cook them within 2 days for maximum freshness.
For cooked turkey, it should be good in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Can I reheat turkey leftovers more than once?
Be extra careful if you’re reheating your turkey – never reheat leftovers more than once, as this can create the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and create toxins.
While heating meat above 75°C a second or third time will kill the bacteria, it will not kill the toxin.
If you’re eating cold leftovers, you should only get what you need from the fridge – as leaving the turkey at room temperature for long periods of time can also encourage bacteria growth.
Is it safe to eat a turkey frozen for 2 years?
It should be fine to consume, as long as the correct temperature and conditions are maintained. Meat needs to be stored at -18 degrees Celsius. If the temperature fluctuates and the meat thaws and then re-freezes, it is not safe to eat.
Freezing and defrosting the ground turkey properly will keep your food flavorful and fresh. Hope this you can find useful information on how to preserve ground turkey in freezer.
How Long Does Raw Ground Turkey Last in the Fridge or Freezer, stilltasty.com, Retrieved Nov. 22, 2022
Here’s What to Know about Keeping Turkey in a Freezer, womansday.com, Retrieved Nov. 21, 2022