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How To Tell If A Whole Turkey Is Bad

With Turkey being the star of Thanksgiving dinner, you want to ensure that it is still good before you cook it and serve it to a table full of guests.

Knowing how to tell if a whole turkey is bad can be done by smelling it, looking it over, and feeling it.

Once you are done reading this post you will confidently be able to tell if your turkey is good to cook, serve and be the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table.

Raw Turkey on a white marble counter

Ways to tell if a fresh turkey is bad?

Using your senses will help determine if your raw turkey is still fresh and ok to cook. You will be able to tell quickly with a few simple tests.

Three easy ways to tell if a turkey is bad are by looks, smell, and texture.

If anything looks weird, smells off, or feels gross, then you should not continue with cooking or eating turkey just like if ground turkey has gone bad.

If you are uncertain at all, I would not recommend risking it. According to the USDA, you are at risk of abdominal pains, vomiting, and infection in your intestines when you eat turkey that has gone bad.

Raw turkey on cutting board with herbs


The first and most obvious sign of turkey going bad is going to be the smell. Fresh turkey should have no smell similar to the signs of how to tell if a chicken has gone bad.

When smelling a raw turkey you want to remove the turkey from its package and let it sit on a cutting board or plate for a few minutes allowing it to breathe.

This releases any gases that might have been trapped in the package so that you do not get a false smell.

Keep your nose about 6 inches away from the raw turkey and give it a good sniff. You shouldn’t smell anything.

If you get a sulfur or rotten egg smell, or sour, rancid smell then your turkey is not good. Any gamey, foul smells are also an indicator that turkey is spoiled.

These are signs that bacteria have started to break down the turkey and decompose the meat.

raw turkey on a cutting board


You can tell if a turkey has gone bad by looking at the skin. It should look white and pink in color and without any cuts or bruising on the skin. The skin should also look smooth and dry.

Signs of a turkey that is no longer fresh will be that it has changed color from when you bought it and turned greyish in color.

The skin’s color will darken as it spoils and should be discarded if you notice any dullness or grey. You also want to make sure that there are no visible broken bones, lesions, or dark spots.

It is key to knowing how to tell if different meats are bad before you start to prepare them.

holding a turkey leg straight up


Raw turkey should have smooth dry skin. Sliminess is a sure sign turkey that has gone back and should be discarded.

Slimy turkey usually goes hand in hand with foul-smelling turkey as the bacteria activity has increased and therefore spoiled it.

Once the turkey has gotten to this point it is safe to say that the trash is where it belongs. If you were to cook it you will be putting yourself at risk of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella.

You can also learn more about how to tell if deli turkey is bad in my blog.

How long does turkey last

Fresh turkey can last in the fridge for a couple of days. The sooner you cook it the better so that it doesn’t have a chance to start spoiling.

If you have a frozen turkey that is a different story. Turkeys can last in the freezer for up to a year. After that, they will start to get freezer burn which will change the texture and taste of your turkey when you that it out.

Once you have cooked the turkey you can keep it in the refrigerator for 3-4 days as long as it has been cooled and stored properly in an airtight container.

You can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without mashed potatoes! Find out in my post about How long mashed potatoes last so that you can prep and be ready ahead of time!

Fresh Turkey1-21 year
Cooked Turkey3-4 days6 months

Frequently asked questions about how to tell if a whole turkey is bad

If you are thawing a frozen turkey, yes. As for a raw turkey, it should not be kept in the fridge any longer than 1-2 days before you cook it.
Otherwise, you are at risk of bacteria growth resulting in spoiled turkey.

If you eat spoiled turkey you are at risk of food-borne illnesses such as food poisoning. This will likely result in an upset stomach, vomiting, and/or intestinal infection.
It is always best to avoid foods that have any signs of spoilage.

It is best to cook a fresh turkey within 1-2 days of buying it. Longer than that you are running the risk of your turkey starting to go bad.
The temperature of your refrigerator fluctuates every time you open and close it which is why it’s best to cook your turkey sooner rather than later.


Knowing how to identify a spoiled whole turkey is an essential skill to prevent foodborne illnesses and to ensure enjoyable meals. Pay close attention to any changes in color, an unpleasant smell, or a slimy texture. When uncertain about its freshness, it’s always safer to discard the turkey – food safety should never be compromised.

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