How Long Does Frozen Ground Turkey Last In The Freezer?

Are you looking to store your ground turkey for the long haul? Hopeful that you’ll be able to eat from it months down the road? Freezing it is really the only solution, but just how long does it last in the freezer?

Raw ground turkey, like meat in general, can last indefinitely when given the proper storage and handled with care. While the quality might not maintain for more than a few months, it will remain safe to consume.

That’s the gist but we’ll get into the details as this article progresses.

How Long Will Ground Turkey Last In The Freezer?

At the end of the day, turkey – ground or otherwise – is simply meat, and all frozen meat is thought to stay good almost indefinitely in the freezer. That’s of course assuming that it is at all times stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. That rule applies to all meat as long as the temperature never fluctuates, and it’s also important that the meat be frozen uniformly. That’s important for keeping it healthy and slowing the development of bacteria. 

Properly stored and handled meat can stay good for a long, long time in the freezer, whether you eat it after a couple months or a couple of years. Atleast, provided that the meat is fresh and raw at the time that you freeze it and it’s properly thawed out afterwards. That applies to ground turkey as much as any other meat. Many will note that the quality might not remain consistent perpetually, but it will still be safe to consume for years, again, as long as it’s stored at 0 degrees

It should be noted that cooked turkeys have a shorter lifespan in the freezer, and it’s recommended you eat them within 4-6 months at the latest. 

Tips For Proper Storage

Below we have some advice on the proper way to store your ground turkey. 

  • Make sure the product you’re buying is not yet expired or past it’s sell-by date. It is highly recommended that you freeze it before said date.
  • Make sure you store your meat in the fridge or freezer as soon as you get home.
  • Keep it at 0 degrees fahrenheit and do not let it warm up until you’re prepared to eat it.
  • Check the packaging of the product for instructions and follow them along with these tips. 
  • If being kept for lengthy periods of time, making use of a freezer-safe bag is recommended for freezer burn prevention. These wrappings can include freezer paper, plastic wrap, or airtight heavy-duty foil. 
  • This bag should go over the original packaging, not the meat by itself! Keep the original packaging on until it’s time to cook and eat the meat. 

How To Thaw Frozen Turkey Safely

Per the word of the USDA – the U.S. Department of Agriculture – there are a number of safe and viable ways to defrost meat of all kinds, including ground turkey. Which method you go with is up to you and might depend on your appliances or the time you have on your hands. So let’s look into those methods now.

Refrigerator Defrosting

This is a very solid and simple option, albeit a very slow one. All you have to do is take the frozen meat out of the freezer and instead store it in the refrigerator. From there just let it thaw out gradually. This is much safer than thawing it out at room temperature, which is highly advised against. 

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But naturally due to the meat thawing out in a cold environment, this will naturally take some time. Per the USDA, even ground turkey can take as much as a full 24 hours to thaw. As a general rule of thumb, it will take longer the more meat that you’re working with. Smaller pieces can take less time than bigger pieces. 

Cold Water Thawing

This method requires a lot more of your attention and is a more active experience, however it is an astronomically faster way of getting the job done. Cold water thawing works like this. First, put the meat into a leakproof package or some kind of plastic bag. Then, fully submerge this package of meat in cold tap water. 

Every 30 minutes, you should change out the water, so that the process keeps going steadily and safely. This will still take a while but the estimate here is that it comes out to 30 minutes per pound of meat. So depending on how much ground turkey we’re talking about, this process might not even last an hour. Compare that to the 24 that you can expect with the fridge method!

Microwave Defrosting

This is the quickest method, but it is also the costliest in the sense of the quality loss the meat is enduring. The FDA makes clear that you should cook the food immediately after thawing in this instance, just like with the above methods. Most microwaves come with a defrost setting and allow you to input how much weight there is to the food. Do this right and it will set the proper time automatically, heating the meat at very low power.

That makes this the easiest method and it will invariably take a lot less time. However it’s not necessarily the recommended option unless you’re in a hurry. That’s because it can degrade the quality of the meat, since the heat isn’t usually distributed very evenly. That means some parts of the turkey meat are going to end up cooking before the defrosting is finished. And that’s really not what you want. 

It’s worth noting as well that you have to be careful not to stray into what is known as the ‘Danger Zone’ when it comes to thawing food. And no, this has nothing to do with Kenny Loggins. The Danger Zone in this case refers to temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the point where bacteria can multiply upon your food.

While microwave defrosters are designed with this in mind, it is something to be wary of nonetheless. This is the only thawing method that makes use of heat, after all. 

How to Tell if Frozen Ground Turkey Has Gone Bad?

The main things to judge here would be the smell and the color of the ground turkey meat. If it’s smelly at all, that’s a dead giveaway that something is amiss and you should probably go ahead and throw it out on the spot. A strong scent of any sort is a red flag for sure in this case.

As far as coloration is concerned, generally grounded turkey meat should appear light pink or beige, depending on whether or not it’s raw or cooked. Should that coloration turn to more of a gray color, then that’s pretty worrisome. It’s best not to eat that. 

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The texture can also be tested. If it is anything that you could describe as ‘slimy’, then it is definitely past expiration at that point.  

Related Questions

Now let’s get into some frequently asked questions regarding this subject.

What Does Bad Ground Turkey Smell Like?

We just talked about how one of the ways to tell if a turkey goes bad is the smell, but what kind of smell should you be wary of? Well the thing is, the specifics don’t exactly matter here. Because fresh turkey doesn’t really have much of a scent to it in the first place. 

Much like remarkably fresh white fish meat, there’s actually a noticeable absence of smell when it comes to safe-for-consumption turkey. Fresh turkey really doesn’t have much of a smell to it at all. If anything, it has a distinct lack of smell to it, just like extremely fresh white meat fish.

So if you’re noticing any kind of obvious scent, particularly anything strong or sour, that’s a telltale sign that the turkey meat is less than fresh. And it may well signal that it’s spoiled.

How Long Does A Frozen Ground Turkey Take To Defrost?

We previously mentioned the typical estimated times for refrigeration and the estimates for cold water defrosting. That’s 24 hours and 30-minutes per pound, respectively. But what about microwave defrosting? How long does it usually take to dethaw meat in the microwave?

That is a bit trickier to say since all microwaves are different in this regard. Some will defrost at different temperatures and thus the time setting will be different as well. But it definitely doesn’t take very long compared to the other two methods. For example, a microwave’s auto setting for twelve pounds of food might have it defrost for seven minutes.

Compare that to the cold water method’s ratio and you can see for yourself just how big the difference in time is there. 

Can Ground Turkey Be Refrozen After Thawing?

Short answer: yes! The USDA advises that it is perfectly fine to refreeze thawed out food without cooking it, in the rare event that you’d want to do such a thing. It should be noted however that this process will result in a loss of moisture that might affect the food’s quality. In most instances you wouldn’t want to do this, but that isn’t because of any health reasons. 

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, meat is meat regardless of whether it’s ground and regardless of whether it’s turkey or anything else. It can last for a long, long time in the freezer before the quality drops. And arguably it can last indefinitely without ever being a hazard to your health, so long as you take the proper precautions.

The same basic process can be applied to many other kinds of food and certainly any other kind of meat. Get it fresh, prepare a freezer-safe bag to put the meat package in, put it in the freezer as soon as you get home. Then when it comes time to eat, follow whatever thawing method you want, whenever you want!