Ground Turkey Smells Bad but Not Expired: How to Tell if Ground Turkey is Bad?

by | Sep 13, 2023 | Barbecue, Grilling | 0 comments

Ground Turkey Smells Bad but Not Expired: What Is the Reason?

You might already know that fresh ground turkey doesn’t give off a bad odor. However, what if it starts smelling bad before it has even expired? What’s the reason behind it? Does it mean that the turkey has actually gone bad? 

There are two reasons behind ground turkey smells bad without even expiring. First, the ground turkey was vacuum-sealed due to which it developed a sour smell. Second, the turkey meat caught the smell of other strong-smelling ingredients in the fridge.

In this guide, let’s understand why ground turkey smells bad but not expired and the reasons behind it. 

Can Ground Turkey Smell Bad Without Expiring? 

You might think that as ground turkey is meat, it might smell bad. However, it is not the case. Unlike other meats, chicken and turkey meat don’t give off any funky or sour odor when they’re fresh. 

However, when they go stale, they develop a sour and pungent ammonia-like odor. In such situations, it’s just better to throw the turkey away. 

Keep in mind that there are certain times when the turkey meat starts smelling like spoiled meat without even expiring or going bad. 

Let’s take a look at the reasons behind it. 

Reason 1: Vacuum-Sealed Turkey 

When you purchase turkey meat from a store, it often comes vacuum-sealed. 

In vacuum-sealed packaging, meat is deprived of oxygen to retain its freshness. 

According to Jess Pryles, an Australia-based meat science, the lack of oxygen may cause the juices from the turkey meat to darken over time. The meat may also start smelling stale or sour due to the same reason. 

Therefore, the bad smell has nothing to do with the ground meat going stale. Instead, it is because of vacuum-sealed packaging, and your turkey is safe to eat. 

Reason 2: Smell from Other Foods

If you haven’t stored the ground turkey meat properly, it may pick up the smell of other foods in your refrigerator. 

I remember storing ground turkey meat beside peeled garlic. When I took it out of the fridge the next day, the ground meat had an extremely pungent smell to it. This made me think that the turkey had gone bad when it was the garlic smell!

So, if your ground turkey also smells bad before its expiration date, just check if there are any off-smelling ingredients around it. 

How to Remove the Smell from Ground Turkey?

If you suspect that the ground turkey hasn’t gone stale or expired, you can try removing the smell from it. 

In my experience, here are the two solutions that have worked for me. 

1. Let the Ground Meat Rest for 10 to 15 Minutes

The first solution that works for almost everybody is letting the ground meat rest for a few minutes before cooking. 

For instance, when you open the vacuum-sealed packaging, don’t cook it immediately. Instead, set the meat aside for 10 to 15 minutes. 

You might wonder if you can even keep meat at room temperature. After all, there’s always a risk of bacterial contamination. 

The truth is that you can keep raw meat outside for an hour or two, according to USDA. So, it’s totally safe to keep it out for a few minutes to remove the awful smell. 

If the smell doesn’t go away even after a few minutes, you should check for signs of spoilage. 

2. Clean the Ground Meat

If you want to get the smell of other items away, try cleaning the ground meat. 

Note that you shouldn’t ever wash the ground turkey meat. Washing or rinsing meat can easily lead to cross-contamination of bacteria from the meat to other items in the kitchen. This can increase the risk of foodborne diseases. 

I suggest squeezing a bit of lemon into the ground turkey. This way, the meat won’t smell off and you won’t be risking any form of cross-contamination either. 

You can also use vinegar but I don’t recommend that as it may lead to a drastic change in flavor. 

If none of the two solutions help in removing the smell, there is a high chance that the ground turkey has gone bad. 

How to Tell if Ground Turkey Has Gone Bad?

Keep in mind that even if the ground turkey hasn’t “officially expired” as per the packaging, it may still have gone stale. This happens when you or the supermarket didn’t store the ground meat properly. 

Here are a few obvious signs that your ground turkey is bad or stale. 

1. Appearance

When you purchase ground turkey meat, it has a beautiful beige or light pink color. As time passes by, the color may fade a little. This fading of the meat color isn’t a cause for concern. 

On the other hand, if you notice any drastic changes in the ground turkey meat’s color, it might have gone stale. For example, if the ground turkey has become yellow, green, or even excessively brown, simply throw it out. 

You should also look out for signs of mold growth. Even if you notice a little mold growth, don’t attempt to remove the affected area. Instead, discard the whole ground turkey in the bin. 

2. Texture 

Along with the appearance, ground turkey also undergoes changes in its texture as it becomes stale. 

Generally, fresh ground turkey feels moist and slightly sticky. However, as it becomes stale, it becomes slimy instead of sticky. This is because the bacteria have multiplied on the ground turkey’s surface. 

So, even if you’ve removed the ground turkey from the refrigerator or freezer, and it feels mushy, throw it away immediately. 

3. Smell

Vacuum-sealed ground turkey may have a moderate sour odor. 

Yet, when you take out the raw ground turkey meat and it smells like something has died in there, it’s a clear sign that the meat has gone bad! 

Along with the smell, you can also check the above-mentioned signs of staleness in ground turkey. 

4. Flavor

There are times when you end up cooking stale ground turkey meat. Even after you’ve cooked that, there are a few obvious changes in the flavor that you’ll come across. 

Cooked stale turkey often has an acidic taste to it. It may also mask the flavor of any spices or seasoning that you’ve used in your dish. 

Along with the taste, ground turkey may also have an excessively sticky feel to it. Discard it immediately, else it might lead to food poisoning!

How to Store Ground Turkey Properly?

You need to store ground turkey properly to prevent it from going stale even before the expiration date has passed. 

here is what you need to do to store ground turkey properly. 

1. At Room Temperature 

You cannot store turkey meat at room temperature for a long time. Again, ground turkey only stays fresh outside for an hour (in humid areas) or two (in non-humid areas). 

If you want to keep it out, store it away from any utensils or other food items. 

2. In the Refrigerator 

Refrigerating ground turkey can keep it fresh for only three to four days. 

First, you need to ensure that the refrigerator’s temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can keep the turkey in its original packaging but it’s best to use Ziploc bags or containers to prevent cross-contamination. It also helps in preventing the smell of other things in the fridge from affecting the meat. 

3. In the Freezer 

Ground turkey can stay fresh in the freezer for up to a year. Yet, it is preferable to consume it within three to four months for the best taste and texture. 

You can just freeze the ground turkey in its original packaging. 

For extra precautions, I suggest keeping it in a freezer bag, removing any excess air from the bag, and storing it in the freezer. This can prevent freezer burn and keep the meat fresh for long once you defrost it!

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why ground turkey smells a little off. Now, not all of these reasons point toward the meat being stale. Instead, it can happen when the ground meat is vacuum-sealed or has absorbed the smell of the surrounding food items. 

It’s still best to check for any signs of spoilage before you cook your ground turkey. 

Related Questions

Can I eat ground turkey after 7 days?

You cannot eat cooked ground turkey after 7 days. It’s best to consume it within 3 to 4 days as long as you stored it well. You can use frozen ground turkey meat for three to four months. 

Can I cook a frozen ground turkey?

You can cook frozen ground turkey as long as it doesn’t show any signs of spoilage. It is also best to cook it within three to four months of storage. 




Colin has been grilling, smoking, and barbecuing in his yard for as long as he remembers.  His favorite dish is pork belly smoked on his favorite offset smoker. Read more about Colin here.


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