Frozen or Fresh: Which Turkey Should You Buy?

Frozen turkeys at a grocery story (Photo: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service)

It’s finally November. To beat the crowds, you rush to your grocery store to buy a turkey. If this is your first time, you’re faced with a dilemma: frozen or fresh?

Don’t worry. Here are some guidelines:

  • Have more than a week before your meal? Choose frozen: A “frozen” turkey is a turkey that has been cooled to 0 F or lower. When purchasing a frozen turkey, leave enough time for defrosting.
  • Have less than a week to prepare? Select fresh: The “fresh” label means the turkey has never been chilled below 26 F. Fresh turkeys should not be purchased until one or two days before you cook it, unless the manufacturer’s tag has a “Best by” or “Use by” date that indicates the turkey will be okay on the date you plan to cook it. If there is no tag, then purchase a fresh turkey one or two days before you plan to cook it.

While buying the rest of your Thanksgiving items, remember food product date tags are not safety dates.

  • “Best if Used By/Before” indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality.
  • “Freeze-By” indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality.
  • “Sell-By” tells the store how long to display the product.

For more information on turkey products, check out our fact sheet. Learn about the latest USDA study on safe food handling and thorough handwashing.

Have a food safety question? Contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety specialist or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.