How To Tell If Ground Turkey Is Bad (Real Photos!)

Ground turkey has become a favorite in many home cooks’ kitchens; however, not all of us know what to look out for when we are at the supermarket about to purchase some ground turkey. Before you cook your perfectly lean ground turkey for the next Taco Tuesday, let us first look at how you can tell if ground turkey is bad. 

ground turkey on a wooden board

Ground turkey is spoiled if it has a slimy or tacky residue sticking to it or on the packaging of the meat. If the meat is off, it will smell bad and the color will be drastically changed. The signs can actually be difficult to determine, so the best advice is to use ground turkey within 2 days or throw it out.

As the world changes, so do culinary habits and trends. With all the new recipe ideas evolving, our methods and ingredients to enhance flavors and make dishes more nutritious and healthy change with it. This includes substituting fattier ground meats with ground turkey. Therefore, it is essential to know about food safety and when ground turkey is bad.

For this post, I did an experiment. I bought a pound of ground turkey and left it in the fridge for 28 days so I could share the results with you!

ground turkey in package with text 'how to tell if ground turkey is spoiled'

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How To Tell If Ground Turkey Has Gone Bad?

There are three main factors that indicate if ground turkey is bad: the texture, the color of the meat, and the odor of ground turkey all change if the meat is bad. There are a few other matters that you should also consider when you are at the supermarket and looking for the freshest possible ground turkey to buy. Here are the indications that you should look out for before preparing ground turkey—watch the video or keep reading below.

Sign #1: Ground Turkey Changes Texture

When ground turkey is off or in the process of going bad, the texture of the ground turkey changes. The texture may become tacky, slimy, or sticky. The texture of the ground turkey changes due to Listeria monocytogenes bacteria that can be found in food processing environments. This bacterium grows slowly on meat (like ground turkey), even if you keep it in the refrigerator.

So, if you see any form of slimy or sticky texture on your ground turkey, it’s already too late to save it. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can cause severe, even lethal, diseases that range far beyond food poisoning, so you should not take the chance.

In my personal experiment, the texture of the turkey in the video above definitely did change in the course of the 28 days. However, it wasn’t as slimy as I was expecting it to be (you can see for yourself by watching the video).

up close photo of bad ground turkey

Sign #2: The Color Could Be An Indication That Ground Turkey Is Bad

The color of ground turkey by itself is not a perfectly reliable indication that ground turkey is bad. That is why you need to know all the signs before you can be 100% sure if the meat is bad or not. That’s because light, ventilation, and packaging all play a role in the color of ground turkey meat in the end.

While it is still fresh, ground turkey has a light pink, almost white, color, depending on its fat content. As time progresses, the color of the ground turkey will become dull, and this happens whether the meat is bad or not.

Within the first week or 2, the turkey in my experiment dulled in color. By the time the 28 days were up, it was fully brown (see the photo below). You can really tell the difference in the fresh ground turkey shown at the beginning of this post, compared to this spoiled turkey.

The colors of decay can range from dull grey to a yellowish-brown off-color, and finally a green off-hue color. If your ground turkey is brown or green at all, it is definitely spoiled.

photo of bad spoiled ground turkey meat

Related: How to Tell if Broccoli is bad

Sign #3: Bad Ground Turkey Will Never Smell Appetizing

Unfortunately, sometimes we have no other option but to get close and personal with our food. Therefore, if you get a whiff of ground turkey that does not smell like fresh meat is supposed to (ground turkey should smell a bit like chicken), that is a definite bad sign. You should closely inspect the ground turkey to ascertain if any of the other signs are present.

Bad turkey may smell a bit like game but slightly off. Suprisingly, at the end of my experiment the ground turkey did not have a super strong odor.

It definitely didn’t smell great, but it was less pungent than I thought it would be.

Look out for an off smell on other meat products too, like pork and chicken broth.

Sign #4: Ground Turkey Won’t Last Much After The Expiration Date

Unlike some other products, the product date on ground turkey’s packaging is not the only guide to follow regarding the safety of ground turkey. There is, of course, the expiration date, also indicated on the packaging. This date is based on when the turkey was prepared and packaged and how long the turkey should last in ideal circumstances. But circumstances aren’t always ideal, are they?

Turkey is always kept cold during distribution to retail stores. This is to ensure that the growth of the Listeria monocytogenes is slowed down or to try and prevent the bacterial growth completely. Sometimes this could fail, so we should take a page from the USDA and FDA book on how to safely store and handle ground turkey from the moment we step into the retail store.

First, of course, you should take note of the expiration date on the ground turkey’s packaging. Ensure that the grocery store is the last stop on your shopping trip since the ground turkey should always be kept at cold temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

As soon as you enter your home, put the ground turkey in the refrigerator or freezer to retain its optimal quality. According to FDA and USDA regulations, you can safely store ground turkey in your refrigerator for one to two days after purchase. If you know you need to use the ground turkey after that, I would recommend freezing it right away rather than risking it staying in the fridge longer.

Sign #5: Look Out For Swollen Ground Turkey Packaging

Unfortunately, ground turkey’s packaging is also a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. That’s why we need to thoroughly understand how to safely handle the food we purchase and are about to indulge in. Because if we do not make responsible decisions, we can end up with a mouthful of disappointment.

This is precisely why you should not buy or cook ground turkey if the package is swollen or if it has a slick, slimy texture on the inside. Chances are that the smell will already be putting you off any dinner plans you may have had that involved ground turkey.

You should also not buy ground turkey if the packaging is torn or damaged in any other way. Though this is not a sign that the ground turkey is bad, it could have been exposed to other bacterial contamination, and it is therefore not a good idea to buy it, as you do not know how long it will still be safe to use.

Sign #6: The Taste Will Be Off

Hopefully, things will not progress to this, but if, and only if, you did not notice any of the other signs and started eating the ground turkey, you may notice that the taste of ground turkey is off. If anything does not taste as it should, it’s always best to stop eating and look out for signs of food poisoning.

Because you are dealing with a lump of meat that could have bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, or Campylobacter jejune growing in it, it is best not to take the chance on a palate test as this can have severe consequences on your health.

If you notice any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or headaches after you had an encounter with a mouthful of ground turkey that has gone bad, then it is best to talk to a medical professional.

More Questions on Spoiled Ground Turkey

Can I eat ground turkey that has turned brown?

No, brown ground turkey is a sign that it is bad. Do not eat ground turkey that has turned this color. Throw it away immediately.

Does cooking spoiled ground turkey kill the bacteria?

No, unfortunately you cannot simply cook spoiled ground turkey to get rid of the bacteria. Once the turkey is spoiled, it is bad for good. Do not try to cook bad ground turkey; you can still get food poisoning.

How long is ground turkey good in the fridge?

Ground turkey only lasts about 2-3 days in the fridge. It is one of those things you want to use right away! If it has been longer than this, start looking for the signs of spoilage we’ve talked about.

Is it OK if ground turkey has a smell?

No. If ground turkey has a smell this is not a good sign. Fresh ground turkey should have practically no smell at all. So if yours smells, there’s a pretty good chance it is starting to go bad.

How do you tell if cooked ground turkey is bad?

It is a little more tricky to tell if cooked ground turkey has gone bad, since you can’t check the color or the packaging. You will have to rely on the smell. If it smells off or sour, throw it out.


Ground turkey is a yummy lean alternative to ground beef. But if your package of ground turkey has been sitting too long, you might be wondering how to tell if it has spoiled. Make sure you examine the smell, packaging, and appearance before proceeding with your recipe!

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