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Understanding the Product Dating Codes and Shelf Life for Turkey

A date stamped on a product's package, known as "open dating," uses a calendar date to help the supermarket operator determine how long to display perishable foods, such as turkey and other proteins.

There are several types of dates that might be found on turkey packaging:

  • A "Sell by" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. Consumers should buy the product before the date expires.

  • A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or food safety date.

  • A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

For a consumer to ensure that turkey and turkey products retain top quality, the following tips should be considered:

If product has a "Use-By Date," follow that.

  1. Check the "Sell-By Date" and purchase the turkey products before the date expires.

  2. Take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly under 40 F. Place turkey in the coldest part of the refrigerator, which could be either the meat/poultry drawer or the bottom shelf. Leave products in store packaging prior to use.

  3. If there isn't a meat/poultry drawer place a plate/tray under the turkey to prevent drips on other foods. Keep raw turkey separate from cooked foods.

  4. Follow handling recommendations on product.

  5. Freeze it at 0 F., if you can't use it in the times recommended (see chart below). Once a perishable product is frozen the expiration date become irrelevant and you should follow the storage guidelines below.

Refrigerate fresh, uncooked and processed turkey products at 40 F or below.

If product has a "Sell-By Date" or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times in the following chart.

PRODUCT *REFRIGERATED STORAGE TIMES AFTER PURCHASE (unopened package) *REFRIGERATED STORAGE TIMES (after opening package) FREEZER STORAGE (at 0 degrees F. or below)
Turkey (Whole) 1 or 2 days 1 year
Turkey Breast 1 or 2 days 6 to 9 months
Turkey Parts - Steaks, Cutlets, Tenderloins, wings, drumsticks and thighs 1 or 2 days 3 months
Turkey Sausage 1 or 2 days 1 to 2 months
Turkey Bacon 2 weeks 5 to 7 days 1 month (unopened package)
Ground Turkey 1 or 2 days 1 to 2 months
Cooked Poultry (no gravy or sauce) 1 or 2 days 1 to 2 days 3 to 4 months
Cooked Turkey with gravy or sauce 1 to 2 days 6 months
Sliced Deli Turkey Breast 1 or 2 days 3 to 5 days 1 month

Source: National Turkey Federation

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