Turkey Shelf Life: How Long Does Turkey Last?

What is the average shelf life of turkey? How long does turkey last in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer? What is the best way to store turkey to increase its  shelf life? Find out the answers to these questions and more below:

Shelf Life of Turkey

 RefrigeratorFreezer
Whole1-2 Days1 Year
Cuts1-2 Days9 Months
Giblets1-2 Days3-4 Months

When buying a turkey, you must first determine how big it needs to be, i.e., how many people you’ll be serving and allow the recommended one (1) pound of meat per person.  Next, you must decide if you’re going to buy a fresh or a frozen bird.  

If you are going to serve fresh turkey, it is recommended you purchase it a couple of days prior to the big event. Pre-stuffed turkeys should not be purchased fresh, only frozen.  

STORING TURKEY

Leftovers should be used within 3 to 4 days or frozen before that time.  Of course, any of the meal items left out for an extended amount of time without being preserved should be discarded.  By placing items in smaller containers in the refrigerator or freezer, allows them to cool off faster.  

A frozen turkey can remain frozen indefinitely. A frozen pre-stuffed turkey should be cooked according to instructions on the package and not thawed beforehand.  

HOW TO HANDLE TURKEY

The meat aisle should be your last stop at the grocery store.  Look for handling instructions on the packaging and follow explicitly when possible.  As soon as you arrive home, you should put the turkey in the refrigerator or freezer right away.  

It is always wise to wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any raw meat product and any utensils or surfaces it might have touched.  

COOKING TURKEY

There are three primary ways to thaw a turkey: 1) in the refrigerator [long and slow method so best to plan ahead because this will take days], 2) in cold water [in airtight bag, changing water every 30 minutes], and 3) in the microwave [partially cooked food may result which would also result in bacteria growth].  

Oven method of cooking requires the oven be set at 325 degrees F. Using a food thermometer, your bird is safely cooked when it internally reaches a temperature of 145 degrees F.  The best places to check are the wing, thick part of the breast, and the inner thigh.  It is recommended to let it rest for 10-20 minutes before carving. Sometimes, especially with smoked turkey, the meat looks really pink. This is okay and safe to eat.

Cooking a frozen turkey increases the cook time by an additional 50%.  Remember to remove the innards.  

Tips:

  1. The food thermometer can be put into position just prior to the turkey going into the oven.
  2. Use foil over the turkey (preferably heavy-duty) if your pan has no cover.  
  3. Add a small amount of water to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Situate the bird “akimbo” in the pan to get a more evenly cooked bird.  This is done by tucking the tips of the wings under the shoulders.

Giblets: Are the turkey’s organs and other body pieces. They are wrapped and stored inside the bird.  They should be taken out before cooking.  To make giblets, these pieces are simmered in several cups of water until they have literally broken into bits. Larger pieces should be chopped up.