Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if your chicken, either raw or cooked, is safe to use and eat. If the sell by date has already passed, this can make it even harder to decide.
However, it is best to remember that chicken can be safe to eat for around two days after its sell by date, but this is only possible if it has been stored properly in the fridge.
Within the two days after its sell by date, make sure you either cook or freeze your chicken safely. If you do decide to cook your chicken in this time, it can last for between three to four days in the fridge.
Raw chicken can also be ok to eat for up to three days after purchase as long as it does not show any signs or smells of spoilage.
Using raw chicken three to four days after its sell by date is entirely at your own risk and you should only consume it if you know and can detect the signs of chicken that has gone bad and is unsafe to eat.
However, it is definitely not safe to consume chicken five days after its sell by date because chicken is a hotbed for bacteria which can grow on raw chicken. Contamination from this bacteria can cause serious illness and food poisoning.
After the sell by date of a product, it will begin to decline rapidly in taste and texture. It will then eventually become unsafe to consume.
Although chicken can last for a few days after its sell by date, this is merely a suggestion and not a rule. It is essential to always thoroughly check your food – both raw and cooked – before you use it.
What is the difference between a sell by and use by date?
Sell by dates and use by dates are very often a source of confusion for people. Some people even use them as inter-changeable, but this is not the case and it is important to know the difference.
The main difference is that a sell by date is intended mainly for sellers and retailers, it is not for consumers to depend on. It indicates the date by which a product should be sold by for food safety reasons.
Also check: How To Know When Chicken Is Done Boiling
It also helps the staff to know when to mark down and reduce the price of an item, or even remove it from the display. As mentioned at the start, most products, like chicken, will be safe to consume for around two days after this sell by date.
On the other hand a use by date, which can also be called the best before date, is only sometimes added to a product.
A use by date indicates the date by which the chicken should be used for the best quality and safest consumption.
As mentioned not every product has a use by date to prevent people from wasting food just because it has past that date.
A use by date is only a guess from the producer and it is better to check yourself whether your product is safe to eat by following some simple steps explained later on.
Some people believe that they must strictly abide to these dates so they will not become ill. But, chicken is still safe to be eaten a day or so after its use by date. However, it is always better to stay on the safe side and cook the chicken before or on the use by date to avoid the food from being unsafe to eat.
What is the best way to store chicken
To ensure that your chicken remains fresh and safe to eat, put it in the fridge as soon as you get home from the store.
This prevents the possible time it could be exposed to bacteria. Also, it is advised to always store your chicken in a package on the bottom shelf or even the drawer of your fridge. This prevents any chicken juice from dripping onto your other food and contaminating it.
The shelf life of chicken can vary depending on how it is stored. It is advised to keep the chicken in its original packaging as it will ensure that the chicken is not exposed to bacteria in the air.
However if you do decide to remove the chicken from its original packaging, make sure to store it in airtight container, again in the fridge, to keep its freshness.
If you will not be using your raw chicken before its use by date, you can freeze it which will keep the chicken good for longer.
Frozen chicken normally stays safe for consumption and at the same quality for up to nine months.
Just as you would do when storing chicken in the fridge, you must ensure that you package your raw chicken for the freezer safely in air tight packaging.
This can either be a good quality freezer bag or a vacuum-sealed container to prevent freezer burn. As long as it does not let any air in, your chicken will keep its freshness.
Much like with raw chicken, you can also safely freeze cooked chicken. Again, store this the same as raw chicken and it will stay safe for consumption and of the same quality for up to six months. If it helps, label the container that the chicken is stored in with the date it was frozen so you can easily remember its shelf life.
The shelf life of frozen chicken does depend entirely on the cut:
- A whole chicken: Up to one year
- Chicken pieces: Up to nine months
- Cooked chicken in dishes with broth or gravy: Up to six months
- Ground chicken: Up to four months
- Cooked chicken sausage: Up to two months
To increase the quality of frozen chicken – whether it is raw or cooked – try to store it at the bottom of your freezer and at the back away from the freezer door. This prevents any temperature fluctuations when the freezer door is opened.
How to tell if chicken has gone bad
There are very simple ways to tell if raw chicken has gone bad. The signs can be detected by looking at the appearance, texture and smell of the chicken.
Appearance: Fresh raw chicken should have a light pink colour and the fatty parts should be white. If the chicken has gone bad or is starting to go bad, the meat will be a grey, yellow or even a green like colour.
If it is really bad, your chicken may even have mould growing on it. But some colour changes are normal such as a slight lightening or darkening of the flesh; this is not bad it just means it is nearing its end date.
Texture: Fresh raw chicken should look and feel glossy. If the chicken has gone bad or is starting to go bad, the meat will have a slimy, jelly or sticky texture.
If you press down on the chicken and it leaves a mark in the flesh, this is a simple tell-tale sign of bad chicken. If your chicken is like this, dispose of it immediately.
Smell: Fresh raw chicken should have a mild meaty smell or even no smell at all. If the chicken has gone bad or is starting to go bad, the meat will have a foul and unpleasant smell, almost sour.
Much like testing if raw chicken is bad, simply follow the same steps to check whether your cooked chicken has gone bad.
Appearance: Cooked chicken should be white with no pink pieces. If it has any pink bits this is a sign of undercooked chicken, which can make you seriously ill. If your cooked chicken has gone bad or is starting to go bad, the meat will turn a green like colour and may have mouldy patches.
Smell: Much like fresh raw chicken, cooked chicken should have a slight meaty smell. If the chicken has gone bad or is starting to go bad, the meat have a strong sour and foul smell.
If your chicken, raw or cooked, shows any of the above signs do not consume it and dispose of it immediately. Spoiled chicken may be contaminated with bacteria, such as salmonella or E-Coli, and it can cause food poisoning and very serious illnesses.
Can I save bad chicken and consume it?
There is nothing to do to save your chicken once it has gone bad. If the smell is not enough to put you off, the fact you may get food poisoning should be the final decider. It will not taste nice and it is certainly not worth the risk.
How can I safely defrost chicken?
If after freezing your chicken you would now like to consume it, you must defrost it safely in the fridge. Do not leave your chicken on the side to thaw as it could leave you susceptible to illness.
A whole chicken can take around 24 hours or more to thaw where as smaller cuts of chicken take a little less than this. It is essential to give yourself enough time to fully thaw the chicken.
When defrosting your chicken, you must make sure that your frozen chicken remains in a bag or a container. Also, store it on the bottom shelf or in the drawer of your fridge to prevent cross contamination. If you are very concerned about potential dripping, place the bagged frozen chicken in a bowl as well.
As long as you thaw your chicken in the fridge and do not leave it uncooked for longer than 36 hours, it will be safe to use.
Why you should properly cook your chicken
Raw chicken can attract dangerous bacteria which can give you food poisoning and make you seriously ill. That is why you should take precautions when preparing and cooking chicken.
Whilst handling raw chicken, it can come into contact with countertops, cutting boards or even other foods and spread this bacteria.
It is vital that you avoid cross contamination and do not let raw chicken touch any other ingredients. Also always ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. Make sure that you thoroughly wash your chopping boards and any other utensils too.
In contrast to popular belief, do not attempt to wash your chicken. The water could splash over onto the counters or any nearby food and utensils, which again risks contamination and illness.
Chicken buying tips
To make your chicken last as long as possible, just follow this simple tip.
Always buy your food when you plan to eat it in the next few days. If you are going to consume your chicken that day or the next day, you can buy a packet with a close sell by date.
These are often marked down and will save you money as well as having the same freshness and quality as any other packet.