Food Safety, Preparation and Storage Tips
Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the University of Arizona

Buying and Storing a Turkey

There are many different types of turkeys on the market today: fresh, frozen,self-basting, and prestuffed. They will be identified on the label. Also on the label is an inspection mark that lets you know the turkey has been inspectedby the United States Department of Agriculture and that it is safe, wholesome,and accurately labeled. About 95% of all turkeys and other meat and poultryproducts are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The label will also indicate a USDA grade mark - usually grade A. Turkeys that are grade A are meaty, have a well developed layer of fat in the skin and arepractically free from pin feathers, bruises, cuts, tears on the breast and legs,and broken bones.

For more tender, mild flavored turkeys, look for the words young turkey (usually 4-6 months of age). There are also young turkeys labeled fryer-roasterturkey (usually under 16 weeks of age). The sex designation of hen or tom is optional on the label and is an indication of size rather than the tendernessof a turkey.

When buying a turkey, you can figure on one pound per person. This will provide generous servings with enough left over for second-day dishes.

Turkey may be purchased either fresh or frozen. Because it is highlyperishable, the USDA recommends buying fresh turkey only if it will be cookedwithin two days. The sell date is the last day the turkey should be sold bythe retailer. The turkey will maintain optimal quality and safety for one ortwo days after this date. Avoid selecting a fresh turkey that is stackedabove the top of the store's refrigerator case. Once you get your fresh turkeyhome, refrigerate it immediately. Fresh turkey parts can be frozen and storedin your freezer at 0° F or below for up to six months. Repackage turkeyparts in freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil to prevent freezer burnand the development of an off-flavor. Put a date on the packages and use theoldest first.

Fresh turkey can be stored in your freezer for up to one year. Previouslyfrozen turkeys or turkey parts can be stored up to 6 months without appreciableloss of quality. Frozen whole turkeys do not need to be rewrapped unless thepackaging has been opened or is punctured or torn. Follow one of the threeapproved methods of thawing a turkey: in the refrigerator, in a cold waterbath, or in the microwave. For information on thawing a turkey, see the Thawing a Turkey tipsheet.

Keep a prestuffed turkey frozen until you are ready to cook it. Do notthaw it because bacteria can develop in the stuffing while the turkey thaws.


  • University of Arizona Fact Sheet. 1997. Turkey Preparation - To Stuff or not to Stuff.
  • Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Publication. 1995. P Kendall and N Dimond. Service in Action; Food Storage for Safety and Quality.
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA, Food Safety Publications. 1997. Turkey.
  • USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline

Material written by Mary Abgrall and Scottie Misner, June 1998.
Part of Food Safety Tips, College of Agriculture, The University of Arizona
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