How to Tell If Chicken Is Bad

·4 min read
chicken legs and trash can on designed background
chicken legs and trash can on designed background

Getty Images / fcafotodigital (chicken), Getty Images / Ryan McVay (trashcan)

Have you ever been in a rush to make your favorite chicken recipe and wondered to yourself, is this chicken bad? Safe food handling of chicken (e.g., not washing it) is crucial to preventing salmonella and other foodborne illnesses, but making sure the chicken you're getting ready to prepare has not spoiled is just as important.

How to Tell If Raw Chicken Has Gone Bad

A surefire way to tell if your raw chicken is past its prime is to smell it, notice its color and observe its texture for any noticeable changes since the point of purchase. When safe to consume, raw chicken has little to no scent, but if you get a whiff of something sour, reminiscent of rotten eggs or just downright foul, it's time to say goodbye.

Discoloration may also occur, and the normally pink raw meat may turn yellow, gray and even green. As for the texture, raw chicken should feel moist and smooth in your hand, not sticky, dry or rough.

"It should not slide from your fingers if you hold it. That being said, if you are having difficulty handling your chicken because it feels slimy, then your chicken has gone bad," says Natalia Thompson, CEO and recipe creator at Flavorful Home.

The USDA requires a "pack date" or code date for poultry products, which helps identify product lots in the event of a salmonella outbreak or outbreak of another foodborne illness. In addition to the identifying code date, a "best if used by" date will also be provided for quality assurance.

Regardless of the marked date, your raw chicken only has a two-day shelf life in the refrigerator. Before your next trip to the grocery store, take a look at our tips on shopping for the best chicken.

How to Tell If Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad

Just like when it's raw, you'll know if cooked chicken is bad based on the smell, color and texture.

"Cooked chicken will start to appear gray or greenish, and have a softer or slimier texture when it starts to go bad; as well as a foul smell. Cooked chicken may also develop mold or white patches on it, which indicates it has gone bad," says Katie Tomaschko, M.S., RDN.

Like raw chicken, cooked chicken also has a short shelf life in your refrigerator of three to four days, so make sure to put your leftover chicken to work before it's time to toss it.

How to Store Chicken in the Fridge

Once you get home from the store, your raw chicken should go into the refrigerator straight away and be cooked within two days. Be sure to keep your meat on the bottom shelf or drawer of your refrigerator to ensure that there won't be any accidental dripping of raw chicken juices onto your other food.

If you're placing cooked chicken in the refrigerator, make sure you have an airtight container handy and plans to eat it soon. "Once your chicken has been thoroughly cooked, store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to four days. For best results, wait to chop/slice/shred any leftover chicken breasts until ready to enjoy," says Jessica Randhawa, owner and head chef of The Forked Spoon.

How to Store Chicken in the Freezer

As for the freezer, you can freeze cooked and uncooked chicken with ease. Most chicken is sold in plastic-wrapped containers, which may cause freezer burn. Instead, place the raw chicken in freezer bags and press out as much air as possible before sealing the bag. If possible, write the date on it, even though the USDA says it can last indefinitely if continuously frozen.

If you won't be able to finish your leftover cooked chicken from the fridge, you can store it the same way—in a sealed freezer-friendly bag with as much air as possible pressed out. Try dividing it into portions for easy meal prepping.

Bacteria can stick around on uncooked chicken if the thawing process takes too long, so when it's time to defrost your chicken, there are a few effective methods—like sticking it in the fridge, or using a cold water bath—that are safer than microwaving it or simply sitting it on your kitchen counter.

And make sure if you need to refreeze your chicken for some reason, you follow these steps to do it safely.

Bottom Line

It's actually fairly easy to tell if your raw or cooked chicken has gone bad. You just have to smell it, touch it and give it a good looking-over. If it smells bad, is really slippery or slimy, or is rough or discolored in any way, throw it out.

If you've found that your chicken is good and safe to eat, try this delicious recipe that starts with raw chicken thighs, Huli Huli Chicken with Pineapple-Ginger Sauce, or this saucy-creamy-cheesy recipe that use leftover cooked chicken, Adobo Chicken & Kale Enchiladas.

Related: 30 Healthy Recipes That Use Leftover Chicken Breast