Turkey is a delectable protein that lights up my dining table during the holidays. However, fresh turkey can be tricky to store. This storage issue begs the question, how long can you keep a fresh turkey in the refrigerator? Personally, I don’t keep any fresh turkey in my fridge past two days as it is in line with the USDA guidelines.
We’ve done similar articles about how long ground turkey is best frozen for and how to tell if turkey is bad. This time it’s about fresh turkey and refrigeration time. Let’s discuss this along with turkey-storage related issues. So, stick around!
My advice is that raw turkey should be properly stored for as little time as possible. Fresh turkey cuts, giblets, and raw whole turkey can last in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. Also, you must maintain the refrigeration temperature at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, as the FDA recommends.
Raw poultry will last up to two days after purchase in the fridge until it is cooked. Any longer, and it may get spoiled. For this reason, ensure that you consume it within 1-2 days of purchase. However, if you realize that you can’t use the meat within two days, freezing the whole turkey may buy you more time.
If you don’t store it properly, a turkey can accumulate germs that are hazardous to your health. Also, if it’s not cooked, it can accumulate bacteria quickly. Here’s how I store my fresh poultry step-by-step:
If your turkey is frozen, it will be packaged to protect it from bacteria growth so that it stays fresh for a long time. If you take the frozen turkey out of its original packaging, even to put it in a freezer bag, plastic wrap, or cellophane, you expose it to bacteria. This increases the risk of food poisoning. So, check that there is no opening through which air can enter when you buy the frozen turkey.
If you don’t intend to prepare it in the next 2 or 3 days, keeping it in the freezer rather than in the fridge is the best way to make sure it stays fresh.
Start by transferring the turkey to your freezer quickly. The ideal temperature for freezing foods, including frozen turkey in the freezer, should be around -17.8 degrees Celsius or 0 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA. A very low temperature will prolong preservation period of the turkey. At this temperature, you can store your turkey in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Transfer it from your freezer to the fridge so that it defrosts naturally. However, if you have some time, you can put it in a container filled with cold water. Never thaw your turkey in hot water.
Do not let it thaw in the kitchen at room temperature, as it will be contaminated with bacteria and increase the risk of food poisoning when consumed. So, it’s best to thaw your whole turkey in a refrigerator.
Pro tip: A 5-pound turkey will take one day to thaw in a refrigerator. So, a 10-pound bird will completely defrost in about two days.
If you put it in a container filled with cold water, leave it in its original packaging and make sure the water stays cold.
You can also defrost a turkey in a microwave oven (if it is large enough). By choosing this option, you will have to cook it immediately afterwards, because the microwave will not thaw it evenly and some parts may start to cook.
Remember to place a dish under your turkey so that any juices that escape do not flow inside the refrigerator and drip on your groceries. This way, you also avoid contaminating other foods with the bacteria.
Place the turkey in the coldest place in your refrigerator. It should be on the lowest shelf and at the very back. Bear in mind that the temperature of your fridge should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you don’t finish the turkey with your guests during your meal, the leftovers can last in the fridge for 3 to 4 days once it’s already cooked.
You’ll be able to make some great sandwiches with it, but there are plenty of recipes you can prepare quickly. Moreover, I’ve found that turkey flesh located near the bones degrades more quickly (between 2 and 3 days).
So, I recommend that you separate the flesh from the bones and put it in cellophane paper before placing it in the refrigerator. You can prepare a delicious broth with the carcass and the bones.
Stores can keep fresh turkey in a refrigerator for longer because they ensure consistent refrigeration temperature. Raw turkey can last in the fridge for a longer period if it is properly sealed and the fridge remains closed and at constant refrigeration temperature. Moreover, the store’s refrigerators are typically manned by technicians that maintain the necessary temperatures for the preservation of meat.
The USDA recommends three to four days max because the cooked turkey will last in the fridge for longer than raw turkey.
I’ve seen folks ask if leftover or cooked turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one week. That’s not safe. Cooked turkey that isn’t properly stored in the refrigerator or has been stored longer than four days will quickly deteriorate as the bacteria starts to form.
Even within the three-to-four-day time frame, ensure the fridge you’re storing the leftover cooked turkey in registers a temperature of 40 degrees or lower.
While cooler temperatures decrease bacteria’s production, they continue to multiply in the refrigerated cooked turkey. This ultimately reduces the quality of the cooked turkey after a few days.
To prevent new bacteria forming in your cooked turkey, the meat needs to be either totally dry or contain preservatives, either natural or chemical. However, refrigerating the cooked turkey is the least fussy option.
Ideally, the fresh turkey should be consumed within 24 hours. The meat quality could reduce or, worse, go bad if you wait longer. Store birds in the freezer if it is not possible to cook them within 24 hours.
Butterball claims you can store their turkey until the sell-by date if left unopened. If you have any concerns about your fridge’s temperature, it is recommended to freeze or cook the turkey within four days of the sell-by date.
The longest fresh turkey can last in the fridge is two days. Beyond this, your turkey may get spoiled or will be unsafe for consumption. So, watch out for the sell-by date, and don’t go past the mentioned dates.
If you have to refrigerate it for more than two days, store the fresh turkey in the freezer instead. To ensure the quality of the turkey, it is best to cook and consume it as quickly as possible once you buy it.
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