Talking Turkey: Find a Natural, Healthy Turkey for Thanksgiving

Understanding labels can help you find the best turkey quickly.

Thanksgiving turkey

Understanding what turkey labels mean will get you out of the grocery store faster, leaving you more time to prepare your natural, healthy turkey.

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Reading turkey labels at the grocery store can gobble up much of your valuable holiday planning time. Here’s a rundown of how to make quick sense of all the terms. (Note: All turkey, fresh or frozen, is inspected by the USDA.)


Definition: No additives, preservatives, or chemicals were added after the bird was processed (official USDA definition).

Grocery notes: Grocery stores have varying definitions. At natural foods stores, “natural” typically means turkeys were raised without antibiotics or pesticides and allowed access to the outdoors. Check with your retailer for details.


Definition: Turkeys were not subjected to antibiotics, pesticides, or given animal byproducts in their feed. They were able to roam outdoors.

Grocery notes: Organic turkey is inspected by a USDA-approved, third-party organic certifier and bears the “USDA Organic” label regardless of where it’s sold.


Definition:“Fresh” can mean partially frozen. Legally, “fresh” turkey is sold at 26° to 40°F. Frozen meat is held at 0°F and must be labeled “frozen.”

Grocery notes: Fresh turkeys sold in natural foods stores are indeed fresh and should be cooked within 48 hours of purchase.


Definition: Poultry farms have been prohibited from using hormones for decades.

Grocery notes: Chicken and turkey are raised without hormones, no matter where sold.


Definition: Some turkey companies inject the meat with salty brine to enhance moisture content.

Grocery notes: If you don’t want to pay for the extra weight of seasoned water, read the label carefully. Pre-basted turkeys are seldom sold in natural foods stores.

Product dates

Definition: “Open dating” helps the store management determine how long to display the product for sale. It’s a quality date, not a safety date, so buy turkey before the “Sell By” date. A “Use By” date is the last date the turkey can be safely cooked and eaten.

Grocery notes: Ask your grocer about product dates—they’re not mandatory in all states.