How To Tell If Turkey Is Bad (Raw & Cooked)

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Imagine if you cooked an entire turkey, only to find out that it was spoiled. Or your turkey leftovers made everyone sick after the holidays. Well, here’s how to know if turkey is bad!

When both cooked turkey and fresh turkey go bad they start to smell sour, and may develop a slimy texture, or grow mold. If you notice any of these signs of spoilage, you should throw it out to avoid making someone sick. No amount of cooking or reheating can make it safe again.

There are a few key ways to tell if your turkey has seen better days. I’ll explain the most common signs of spoiled turkey and answer some frequently asked questions so you can avoid any turkey disasters this holiday season!

How To Tell If Raw Turkey Is Bad

fresh whole raw turkey
Here is what a fresh turkey should look like. It has white skin, no blemishes, and pink meat.

It Is Past The Expiration Date

Whether your turkey has a sell-by or use-by date, once it gets past that date the quality of it will not be at its best.

The meat won’t spring back, there may be a lot more juices which can feel slimy, and when cooked it may taste not quite as good as you’d expect. Of course, if struggle with cooking turkey, the subtle taste and texture change won’t be as obvious.

Also, depending on how it was stored, it may already have spoiled. If your turkey was wrapped in a sealed bag, like butterball turkeys often are, you will notice some other signs of spoilage, starting with a bad smell when opened.

It Smells Bad

If your fresh turkey smells sour, or like Sulphur, it has gone bad. These smells are caused by spoilage bacteria who have multiplied to such great numbers, that their waste products are now strong enough to give you a smell.

If your raw turkey smells bad while cooking, and your oven is clean and other ingredients are fresh, then you should probably throw it out.

Yes, a whole turkey can be an expensive purchase and there may not be enough time to get another, but you shouldn’t risk making everyone sick.

It Has Become Slimy

Raw turkey should be moist when touched, but not slimy. There are some connective tissues under the skin that can feel slimy, but they shouldn’t leave a sticky residue on your fingers after handling it.

If you know that your turkey is old, and it feels and looks slimy, do not use it. Again, bacteria who create bad smells also create a slimy biofilm that coats your meat.

It Is Discolored

Discolored turkey can be the result of bruising which often looks red or blueish in color. However, if the meat is no longer pink and more of a grey color, it has either been exposed to heat or has started to rot.

You should also smell a rotten turkey when it changes color. Don’t take any chances if it only looks bad without a smell, it’s likely bad.

How To Tell If Cooked Turkey Is Bad

cooked and sliced turkey breast
Cooked turkey should be moist, although sometimes dry from overcooking. The breast meat should be white with delicious golden skin. Dark meat should be even more moist than the white.

It Smells Funny

Depending on what seasonings you’ve used on your turkey, cooked turkey really doesn’t have too much of a smell.

Has your turkey been sitting in the fridge for a few days? If it’s past 3 or 4, it might have gone off. Check out my guide on how long turkey lasts for a bigger explanation.

The bottom line is, if you notice any funny or foul smells, it has gone bad.

It Tastes Bad

After reheating your thanksgiving leftovers, you took a bite, and something doesn’t taste right. It could be that your cooked turkey has spoiled.

Anytime meat, such as chicken, beef, or pork has gone bad, it just tastes bad. Instead of forcing the rest of your dinner down, throw it out and get rid of it. It’s also a good time to check the rest of any leftovers you have in the fridge.

There Is Mold

Mold can be difficult to see on turkey leftovers because of the other colors from stuffing to cranberry sauce. But when there is warmth, moisture, and time, mold will find a way to spoil your food sooner or later.

Any signs of mold are a clear indication that your food needs to be throw out. Removing only the molding parts is not enough to make the rest safe because mold spores have already spread to the entire dish.

Bad Turkey FAQs

Does Fresh Turkey Have A Smell?

Yes, fresh turkey has a very subtle smell that most people cannot identify. So if it has a strong smell, it may be bad.

What Does Bad Turkey Look Like?

A bad turkey will have lost its normal color of white skin and pink flesh. It may have turned gray, have spotting on the skin, and look slimy.

What Does Bad Turkey Taste Like?

Bad turkey often tastes sour or not quite right. It should not be consumed in order to prevent food poisoning.

What Happens If You Eat Bad Turkey?

If your eat bad turkey, you may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms are caused by food poisoning bacteria that have multiplied to dangerous levels in the meat and you may require professional medical attention.

Written By Justin Micheal

Justin is not just the creator but also an author and editor for KitchenSanity. He does the majority of the cooking at home with his wife. His friends and family look forward to eating his delicious creations, which often leads to many questions about how they can replicate his meals at home. In his writing, he shares his passion and knowledge as a home chef from his kitchen to yours.