How Long Can You Keep a Thawed Turkey in the Refrigerator?

Baking a turkey needs a bit of planning. Turkey eaters who are planning for Thanksgiving often buy one early at a discount, then freeze it. Turkeys are reliable freezer birds and can maintain quality in the freezer over a year. At some point the turkey is transferred to a fridge to thaw it.

Let’s start by getting yout turkey out of the freezer, which is certainly the first step to thawing your turkey. The question relating to your food quality and safety is, how long can you keep a thawed turkey in the refrigerator?

The answer is roughly 1-2 days. There are a couple variables here including how you thawed the turkey, including the weight of the turkey. For food safety sake, 1-2 days is considered a good answer. Otherwise, harmful bacteria can begin to multiple and cause health problems.

Thawing a turkey in the fridge

First, thawing a turkey in the fridge is actually one of the best ways to thaw your turkey before preparation. While it’s possibly to leave meat out on the counter top to thaw slowly, the same doesn’t really go for turkey. Turkeys tend to be heavier and need controlled, cold thaws to taste best and be the most safe.

Thawing a turkey in the fridge also makes a big difference in the event you need to refreeze. Turkeys enter a “danger zone” when they reach a temperature of around 40 degrees. At this point, they can start to develop staph bacteria. 

Also, ensure your refrigerator is set to as cold as it needs to be. Some refrigerators can go to or above 40 degrees. You won’t want that for your turkey.

Thawing and bacteria

We suggested 1-2 days because of the potential to develop the same kinds of bacteria you would encounter when the turkey gets too warm before cooking.

Staph bacteria is not especially pleasant. You could experience diarheaa, vomiting, stomach cramps, and more. Especially if you eat a lot of it.

Staph bacteria can also become heat resistant, so just cooking your turkey isn’t going to completely remove toxins. The hardest part of this is that staph tends to be colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Your turkey might taste normal to you, but it could result in vomiting out the Thanksgiving cranberry sauce later.

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How do I know of my turkey it thawed?

One important question here is, how do I know the turkey is thawed? This is like asking when the timer starts on 1-2 days. If you don’t know when your turkey thawed, it’s difficult to gauge when to start counting.

By feel

The legs and wings should move freely. You may also want to consider sticking your hand into the turkey to feel the insides too. Ensure they also don’t feel icy and move freely. You are going to stick your hands in to put stuffing anyway. Talking about stuffing learn how to reheat stuffing.!

By temperature

Use the same thermometer you would use to check the doneness of your turkey. The turkey should be between 32 and 40 degrees when thawed. Above 40 and you might have the trouble we mentioned before. Below 32 and you aren’t thawed quite yet.

Temperature is by far the most accurate indicator of whether or not your turkey is originally thawed. Touch can help, but the actual temperature reading taken every day can help you know how fast your turkey is thawing and when to start the clock.

How long should it take to thaw? When can I count on the timer starting?

Thawing a turkey can take days. Turkeys tend to thaw in the fridge about at a rate of about 5 pounds per day. A 15 pound turkey would take about 3 days to thaw. Keep an eye on it by feel and by tempearture though to avoid starting the “timer” too late.

Can I freeze the thawed turkey?

Cooking isn’t always the next step. Did your Thanksigiving or meal planning get moved?

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It is possible to freeze the turkey again so long as the temperature never exceeded 40 degrees and it was only thawed for less than 2 days.

After one of these two things have happened, you can experience poor quality turkey in addition to the possible presence of bacteria. 

The easiest way to avoid the possibility of getting bacteria in the turkey is cooking it one it reaches the right temperature.

What if the plastic cover gets bloated?

Have you ever seen the plastic cover for a turkey get puffed up? We have! It’s not always a sign that the turkey is bad, and could happen during thaw.

Turkey producing companies suggest you try to open the plastic cover or bag when the plastic gets puffed up. If the turkey smells OK and the temperature is still right, after just a couple of days, you are probably OK. 

The explanation for this is that changes in temperature can cause the gasses within the bag to expand. This also happens at higher elevations. The result looks odd in the bag, but isn’t a big deal.


We think food safety is pretty important. No one wants themselves or their guests to have serious indigestion – so far as vomiting and diarheaa because a turkey was thawed for too long. The methods of checking to see if the turkey is ready – or overly ready, are also fairly simple. All you really need is to touch and feel the turkey and learn it’s internal temperature.

In some ways, measuring whether your turkey is ready to eat is the same as whether or not you should cook it yet – check it with a thermometer.

Follow the above instructions and you can worry more about the marinade and spices for your turkey than how thawed it needs to be. So relax, get your thermometer ready, and enjoy your company.