How to Tell If Chicken Is Bad

And how long does it last in the fridge?

December 16, 2022

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Man's hand cutting raw chicken breast. Selective focus

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Man's hand cutting raw chicken breast. Selective focus

Photo by: fotek/Getty Images

fotek/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

Chicken is a go-to protein for many home cooks, but if it’s been in the fridge for a couple days you might find yourself wondering if the chicken is still safe to eat. How can you tell if chicken has gone bad? To learn more, we consulted Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, a FoodNetwork.com contributor, cookbook author, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified athletic trainer.

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Photo by: Sinan Kocaslan/Getty Images

Sinan Kocaslan/Getty Images

How to Tell If Chicken Is Bad

If you’re not sure if the raw chicken you bought has gone bad, here are four things to check. White cautions that some signs of bacterial growth are undetectable, so it is critical to cook chicken to a proper internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

1. Check the Sell-By Date

Check package labels for the sell-by date—if you’re past the date, it’s better to toss it rather than risk consuming it and getting sick. Although the sell-by date is a general timeline, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines recommend storing raw chicken in the fridge for no longer than 1 to 2 days.

2. What Does Bad Chicken Smell Like?

While rotten chicken doesn’t have a textbook smell, bad chicken will have a sour, pungent or off smell. “I have heard some describe it as a sulfur-y, rotten egg type smell,” White says.

3. What Does Bad Chicken Look Like?

Fresh, raw chicken is pink and fleshy in color; if the chicken has gone bad it will be discolored and take on a dull, grayish cast. “Signs of food spoilage are pretty universal,” White says. “Any foul odor, discoloration or foreign substances on your chicken would be grounds for tossing.”

4. What Does Bad Chicken Feel Like?

If the chicken in question feels slimy, sticky or like it has a filmy layer on top, it’s likely gone bad. Fresh, raw chicken has a shiny, smooth texture.

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Photo by: Lew Robertson/Getty Images

Lew Robertson/Getty Images

How Long Is Chicken Good In the Fridge?

According to FDA guidelines, fresh poultry is best stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. White advises ensuring that your refrigerator is set to below 40 degrees F and to store raw chicken on or towards the bottom of the fridge to prevent any potential leaks or dripping on other foods. “When you bring raw chicken home from the store, be sure to honor the “2-hour rule” which means not to leave food out in the “danger zone,” which is between 40- and 140-degrees F for more than 2 hours,” White says. “This temperature range favors bacterial growth.”

How Long Is Chicken Good After Sell By Date?

“Believe it or not, there is no federal mandate for dating raw chicken. Many manufacturers will include a sell-by date for the store to help manage inventory,” White says. “The FDA and USDA indicate that no matter what the date on the package says, use or freeze it within 1 or 2 days of purchase.” At home, White says that she often stretches that to 3 to 4 days, assuming that the chicken is stored and handled properly, that there are no detectable signs of spoilage, and that it is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. However, she says that a good rule of thumb to follow is, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Raw Chicken in Butchers Paper-Photographed on Hasselblad H3D2-39mb Camera

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Raw Chicken in Butchers Paper-Photographed on Hasselblad H3D2-39mb Camera

Photo by: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

LauriPatterson/Getty Images

How Long Does Chicken Last In the Freezer?

Raw chicken parts can be frozen for up to 9 months and whole chicken for up to 1 year. “The FDA recommends extra wrapping (in addition to original packaging) if the chicken will be frozen for more than 2 months,” White says. “This can also help prevent leakage when thawing.”

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