Why Does My Turkey Meat Smell? (It’s Not Always Spoiled!)

Picture this. It’s the day before a big feast or celebration with your family or friends. You know your turkey dish is going to be a hit, so you’re eager to start preparations.

As you’re cutting open the packaging holding the turkey, you get a wicked whiff of something foul, no pun intended.

Could that REALLY be the turkey smell? Even when it’s nowhere close to the use by date?

Well you’re not alone, and this can happen with a full turkey, any cuts of turkey, or even ground turkey.

If you’ve experienced this yourself or are simply curious, here’s whether turkey meat is suppose to smell, what turkey meat smells like, and why it can get smelly, even when it’s not off!

All raw meat inherently has some kind of smell. Some more prominent than others.

Beef is said to smell slightly “bloody”, whereas fresh raw chicken shouldn’t really have much of a smell at all.

Turkey meat is very similar to chicken, and it shouldn’t have a distinct smell when it’s fresh. Over time, it will naturally pick up some sort of scent, but it certainly shouldn’t smell rancid, off, or spoiled.

What you’ll find is that turkey meat is more likely to have a smell if it’s been cryovac’d or vacuum-sealed. When meat is deprived of oxygen it will often change to a darker color, and will sweat in the packaging sometimes causing a bad smell when you first open the packaging!

Disclaimer: Although it’s normal for turkey meat to have a natural smell, if you feel like your turkey is actually spoiled, don’t risk eating it! 

What Does Turkey Meat Smell Like?

Fresh turkey meat smells a lot like raw chicken, which doesn’t have much of a smell at all!

The fresher it is, the less it will smell. But, even if it’s been a few days, the turkey won’t generally pick up a naturally bad odor until much later, unless it’s been deprived of oxygen.

This doesn’t mean fresh turkey should smell nice, but it shouldn’t be unpleasant either! 

Of course, it does depend on the freshness, cut of meat, and the way it’s been packaged.

Why Does My Raw Turkey Smell Bad?

So you may be thinking, since fresh raw turkey shouldn’t really have a smell, then why does my raw turkey smell so bad!?

You may be especially confused if it’s nowhere near the use-by date, and has been kept in
food-safe conditions since you bought it!

Well, the truth is, raw turkey that smells bad doesn’t always mean it’s spoiled

In fact, if you’ve just opened the packaging and you’ve caught a whiff, then there’s something else that would explain it entirely. So, the two main reasons your turkey can smell bad are either that it’s been vacuum-packed, or it has unfortunately spoiled.

Vacuum-Packed Turkey Can Smell Bad!

The most common reason that you’ll be met with an unpleasant smell when opening your raw turkey packaging, is due to the chemical process which happens when the meat is starved of oxygen. 

This most commonly happens if your turkey has been vacuum-packed, cryovac’d, or even if it’s been sealed long enough in an airtight container. 

This process involved sucking out the oxygen within the packaging, to preserve effectively preserve the turkey.

But, with the oxygen removed from the packaging, the juices within the meat begin to develop a strange, tangy odor that gets more intense over time.

This is the prime culprit to smelly turkey, especially if you’ve stored it correctly and it’s within its use-by date. In this scenario, it’s unlikely the turkey meat is spoiled, and the odor is not from the meat being off.

This process affects different meats in different ways and is a common phenomenon with bad-smelling pork ribs.

How To Get Rid Of This Smell?

If the smell did indeed come from the packaging of the meat, then it should quickly subside away as the meat takes on oxygen.

If you want to speed this process up and rid of the smell before cooking, you can simply let the turkey rest and ventilate.

To help rid of some of the smell immediately, lightly dab the surface of your turkey with a dry paper towel. This will absorb some of the excess moisture which holds the smell.

After that, simply let the turkey sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes — before you apply any binder, rub or seasoning. 

By now most or all of the smell should have gone.

If the smell remains and is still as potent as when you opened the packaging, you may want to examine it more closely to be sure it hasn’t actually spoiled!

How To Know If Raw Turkey Is Off?

Even if the turkey is well within its use-by date, has been vacuum-sealed, and stored properly. There’s always a chance it is indeed spoiled or “off”.

Just like with raw chicken, the natural smell should be very mild, and certainly not unpleasant.

So, if you’re met with an awful, rancid smell that won’t go away even after removing all the packaging, then you may have spoiled meat.

To understand whether it was just the packaging that caused the bad smell, or if your turkey is indeed off, examine the color, the texture, and of course, the smell.

The Color

Raw turkey should be pale-white, a light pink, or cream-colored, depending on what cut you’re looking at.

It’s important to note that it’s normal for turkey to turn a slightly darker color if it’s been vacuum sealed, starved of oxygen.

But, if there is any other shades of color, it’s turned MUCH darker, or just doesn’t look right, then it’s a true sign it may be spoiled.

The Texture

If you’ve noticed your turkey skin has become slimy or sticky, it’s a very clear sign something is wrong.

Slime or stickiness is an indication of increased bacterial activity. 

Although not all of this bacteria may be harmful, it can be a sign it’s off, and could contain salmonella or other harmful bacteria.

The texture of turkey should not be overly slimy at all!

The Smell

Since the bad smell can sometimes come from the turkey being sealed in an air-tight package or vacuum-sealed, you can’t judge whether it’s off at first whiff.

However, the smell that comes from oxygen-starved meat will leave the meat entirely once it drys out and has time to dissipate.

So, if you have smelly turkey meat, dry it lightly with a paper towel, let it sit out for 30 minutes, and come back for another whiff.

If it’s still clearly bad-smelling then chances are it’s spoiled. If it smells like fresh turkey then it’s more likely OK – subject to observing the texture, color, and use-by date of course!

Why Does My Ground Turkey Smell Bad?

Just like any other cut of turkey, ground turkey can smell bad for the very same reasons.

It’s normal for ground turkey to have some kind of smell, particularly if it’s been vacuum sealed or placed into an air-tight plastic package.

But, if it shows any other signs of being off like discoloration, sliminess or stickiness, or an unrelenting smelliness, then it very well could be spoiled. Always check the use-by date too.

Always take a conservative approach, after all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Just like other ground meat, it’s not recommended to wash it, as it poses a greater risk of cross-contamination.

Bottom Line

You should always be extra cautious when you’re dealing with raw meat you suspect could be spoiled.

The rule of thumb is, if it’s past the use-by date, chuck it!

But, if your turkey is within the use-by date, looks fresh, and has been stored correctly, then it can sometimes be baffling when you’re met with an unpleasant smell.

However, if you’ve just taken it out of its air-tight packaging and you catch a foul whiff, then this can actually be explained by the process which takes place when the meat is starved of oxygen.

In this case, it’s less likely your turkey is off.

Still, do the thorough checks on the color, texture, and smell and only proceed to cooking it if you’re certain it’s OK!

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