How to know if turkey is spoiled?

In this brief article, we will have a look at different ways to differentiate between fresh and spoiled turkey. We will also highlight the risk of consuming turkey that has gone bad, as well as discuss some of the ways you can store turkey for the longest possible shelf life.

How to know if turkey is spoiled?

To know if your turkey is spoiled you can check different signs related to the smell, appearance, color and expiration date of your turkey. 

Important: You should not eat spoiled turkey as it can contain harmful microorganisms and toxins that can make you very sick (1-2)

How to tell when turkey has spoiled?

Spoiled turkey is not very difficult to differentiate from fresh turkey since there are a few ways to distinguish between the two. Here are a few things to look for:

  1. Smell: Fresh turkey doesn’t have a distinct scent. Smell your turkey to check if it smells sour or funky. Sulfuric or ammonia-like smells are a red flag too. If that is the case, your turkey might have gone bad. 
  1. Appearance and color: Fresh raw turkey has a pink color with lavender and blue undertones. If the color turns red, brown, or green, it might be time to throw your turkey out. 

Gray patches and discolored areas can be a telltale sign of rot as well. Moreover, turkey that has gone bad will have a slimy and sticky texture, so keep an eye out for that.

  1. Expiration date: When buying a frozen or packaged turkey, check the packaging for a label with the “best by” or “use before” date, as it is a clear indicator of the turkey’s shelf life. 

Keep in mind however, that if the packaging is punctured, torn, or otherwise damaged, your turkey might go bad a lot quicker than the date on the label might suggest.

Can you get sick from eating spoiled turkey?

Yes, eating spoiled turkey can pose various health risks due to the presence of harmful pathogens (3-8). These pathogens can cause foodborne illnesses, also known as food poisoning (9). 

Here are some examples of pathogenic microorganisms that can contaminate spoiled turkey and the associated symptoms they can cause:

  1. Salmonella: Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in poultry products, including turkey. Symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and vomiting. In severe cases, it can lead to dehydration and require medical attention (3).
  1. Campylobacter: Campylobacter bacteria are another common cause of food poisoning from poultry. They can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea (often bloody), abdominal pain, fever, and nausea (4).
  1. Clostridium perfringens: This bacterium is often found in improperly cooked or stored meats, including turkey. Consumption of contaminated turkey can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and occasionally nausea (5).
  1. Staphylococcus aureus: S. aureus bacteria can produce toxins that cause food poisoning. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. In some cases, a characteristic symptom is rapid onset and recovery (6).
  1. Listeria monocytogenes: Listeria bacteria can contaminate turkey and can cause a severe infection known as listeriosis. Symptoms may include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions (7).
  1. E. coli: Certain strains of E. coli can cause food poisoning, and they can be found in undercooked or improperly handled turkey. Symptoms may include severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, and sometimes mild fever (8).

What should you do if you suspect you have eaten spoiled turkey?

If you suspect you’ve eaten spoiled turkey and experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, you should follow the next recommendations: 

1. Assess the severity and duration of symptoms.

2. Seek medical attention if symptoms are severe or worsening.

3. Stay hydrated with fluids, rest and allow your body to recover.

4. Practice good hygiene by washing hands thoroughly, and discard any remaining spoiled turkey meat.

How to store your turkey for the longest possible shelf life

To store turkey and prevent spoilage, there are several methods you can follow:

  • Firstly, refrigerate both raw and cooked turkey promptly. Place raw turkey in the meat drawer or bottom shelf of the fridge to avoid cross-contamination and store cooked turkey in airtight containers, adhering to the “best by” date.
  • If long-term storage is required, freezing is recommended, with cooked turkey meat removed from the bone and excess moisture and air removed from the storage container. 

Flash frozen turkey, purchased commercially, can last up to three years and retains the original flavor and texture. It’s important to tightly cover or use airtight containers to prevent moisture and bacteria growth on the turkey’s surface.

By following these guidelines, you can extend the shelf life of turkey and avoid spoilage.


In this brief article, we have had a look at different ways to differentiate between fresh and spoiled turkey. We also highlighted the risk of consuming turkey that has gone bad, as well as discussed some of the ways you can store turkey for the longest possible shelf life.


1. Kinross P, van Alphen L, Martinez Urtaza J, Struelens M, Takkinen J, Coulombier D, et al. Multidisciplinary investigation of a multicountry outbreak of salmonella stanley infections associated with Turkey meat in the European Union, August 2011 to January 2013. Eurosurveillance [Internet]. 2014 May 15 [cited 2023 Jun 9];19(19):20801. Available from: 

2. TONG JL, ENGLE HM, CULLYFORD JS, SHIMP DJ, LOVE CE. Investigation of an Outbreak of Food Poisoning Traced to Turkey Meat. Am J Public Heal Nations Heal [Internet]. 1962 [cited 2023 Jun 9];52(6):976. Available from: 

3. Synnott MB, Brindley M, Gray J, Dawson JK. An outbreak of Salmonella agona infection associated with precooked turkey meat. Commun Dis Public Heal [Internet]. 1998 Sep 1 [cited 2023 Jun 9];1(3):176–9. Available from: 

4. Atanassova V, Reich F, Beckmann L, Klein G. Prevalence of Campylobacter spp. in turkey meat from a slaughterhouse and in turkey meat retail products. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol [Internet]. 2007 Feb 1 [cited 2023 Jun 9];49(1):141–5. Available from: 

5. Aras Z, Hadimli HH. Detection and molecular typing of Clostridium perfringens isolates from beef, chicken and turkey meats. Anaerobe [Internet]. 2015 Apr 1 [cited 2023 Jun 9];32:15–7. Available from: 

6. Fetsch A, Kraushaar B, Käsbohrer A, Hammerl JA. Turkey Meat as Source of CC9/CC398 Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Humans? Clin Infect Dis [Internet]. 2017 Jan 1 [cited 2023 Jun 9];64(1):102–3. Available from: 

7. Olsen SJ, Patrick M, Hunter SB, Reddy V, Kornstein L, MacKenzie WR, et al. Multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infection linked to delicatessen turkey meat. Clin Infect Dis [Internet]. 2005 Apr 1 [cited 2023 Jun 9];40(7):962–7. Available from: 

8. Cook A, Reid-Smith R, Irwin R, McEwen SA, Valdivieso-Garcia A, Ribble C. Antimicrobial Resistance in Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli Isolated from Retail Turkey Meat from Southern Ontario, Canada. J Food Prot [Internet]. 2009 Mar 1 [cited 2023 Jun 9];72(3):473–81. Available from: 

9. Milaciu M V, Ciumărnean L, Orășan OH, Para I, Alexescu T, Negrean V. Semiology of food poisoning. Int J Bioflux Soc [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2023 May 10];8(2):108–13. Available from: 

Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!