This is no spring chicken! If you suspect your meal is no longer edible, you need to know how to tell if chicken is bad. Life can get stressful, don’t I know it. And when it does, it is extremely easy to forget things. If you open your freezer or refrigerator only to realize there is a bunch of chicken sitting there and you do not know when you put it in, you need to find out whether it is still edible. If it is, great! You have a surprise meal. If it is not, throw that thing away! Taking care of your health is important.
Why You Should Care if Your Chicken Is Bad
Do you like food poisoning? I would bet not! After all, who likes lying in bed or in hospital with a puking bucket by their side? When you leave chicken— no matter whether raw or uncooked— for too long, it will develop nasty germs and bacteria that make it unsafe to eat.
These include Escherichia Coli (which causes many dangerous illnesses such as gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and Crohn’s disease) and Salmonella (which causes a diarrhea-and-vomiting illness by the same name). If you cook the bad chicken, there is a chance that the temperature could kill off the bacteria.
However, some could live on and start reproducing again fast. You would also be eating the toxins that remain in the poultry from these bacteria: extremely unsafe! If you want to avoid that admittedly disagreeable situation, you need to take care of the food you eat!
Often, in our fast-paced world, we disconnect from what we put in our stomachs. I invite you to slow down and take a look at the chicken you are eating. What’s more: if you did cook and eat the bad chicken, it would taste disgusting! No one wants that.
How Long Does Uncooked Chicken Last?
Chicken, as a rule, does not keep for very long. Just like most types of meat, its shelf (or fridge) life is limited to less than a week, unless it is frozen. When you go to the store and get raw chicken to cook later, you had better hurry up! Leaving it out of the fridge allows bacteria and other germs to grow extremely fast!
No matter if it is a whole chicken or just assorted pieces of it: raw chicken keeps for about two hours when it is not in a refrigerator or freezer. This is the case if the room is at 90 degrees or lower. If the temperature is higher than that, the safety margin is much more limited: around one hour. If you want to put the raw chicken you just bought in the fridge, the first step is to store it properly.
Once you have got that covered, you need to know how long it will keep for. Uncooked chicken— both whole and sectioned— will last 1 to 2 days in the fridge. Not long at all! You had better had an idea to use this ingredient immediately! Fortunately, our modern age has given us the luxury of freezers.
The cold in the freezer does not kill the bacteria that already exist, but will prevent their growth and spread. In the freezer, if stored by the rulebook, raw chicken can last for an indefinite amount of time. However, to still get the best taste and texture possible, let’s say it lasts two months.
How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last?
The rules for cooked chicken are mostly similar to those for raw chicken. However, you must always keep the two separate. When out on the counter, cooked chicken will last about one or two hours— if the room is over or under 90 degrees, respectively. After that, it becomes unsafe to eat and must be thrown out, even if it does not show exterior signs of danger.
In the fridge, however, cooked chicken lasts longer than its raw counterpart! It can stay edible for 3 or 4 days— though, just to be safe, I would not push it that far! Again, when properly stored in the freezer, cooked chicken will remain good to eat for an indefinite amount of time. But, given that it is not only about mere safety, but also about taste, I would not push it beyond two months!
Important note: If you are about to thaw chicken— no matter whether raw or cooked—, always do so in the fridge, starting the night before you plan on using it. This way, it will be safe and bacteria will grow at a much slower pace than if you thawed it on the counter.
Chicken Gone Bad I: Visual Signs
Normal chicken that is good to eat usually is a healthy pink color that turns white when you cook it. Its skin color can range from whitish to yellow. On the other hand, chicken that has gone bad does not retain these colors: it starts to look duller. The meat becomes progressively grayer and there can be yellow spots in places other than the skin.
What’s more: if you try cooking bad chicken, it will stay grayish instead of turning white. These are clear signs of deterioration. Do not eat this chicken, but rather throw it out. Normally, chicken that has been stored in the freezer will look grayer than refrigerator chicken. However, if it looks a dark gray— or even darker—, it is bad. Do not eat it.
Chicken Gone Bad II: Pay Attention to the Smells
I know, I know. You do not want to smell potentially nasty chicken. But this is really necessary! After all, if you can’t tell the difference between good and bad chicken, you will be eating either and getting sick as a result. So, smells. The smell of raw chicken is not particularly appetizing, but it can be best described as “bland”. Cooked chicken generally has a pleasant food scent.
Opposed to this, the smell of chicken that has gone bad is immediately recognizable and unpleasant. It is foul and slightly sweet: the smell of decomposition (think of rotten eggs). This is true for both raw and cooked chicken. Maybe your chicken was just fine in the fridge but, now that you are cooking it, it has started to smell (and not in a good way). If that is the case, toss it in the bin. It is not worth the risk.
Chicken Gone Bad III: Texture Is Important Too!
Sticky, slimy, gross. Those are the texture characteristics of chicken that has gone bad and can’t be eaten any longer. Now, chicken is normally slimy, but it is usually a light coat of fat. You can try this test: put the chicken in a safe container in the sink and run the tap water. If the slime washes off, it’s good; it stays very sticky, put it in the trash.
If the chicken you stored in the freezer has a crust of ice or rash-like marks, it has gone bad. Keep this in mind, though: no matter the exterior signs, if the chicken has been stored for longer than the indicated periods, you must throw it out.
These signs are, mainly, a guide for when you forget the date you first stored the chicken. The last resort: taste before committing. Do not swallow anything that tastes odd, and rinse your mouth immediately afterward. As I always say, when in doubt, throw it out!
How to Store Chicken for Safety and Durability
Always store your chicken wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Place the wrapped pieces of chicken in resealable containers— if they are the rigid box type, all the better! Never store cooked chicken near raw chicken. Always place raw foods in airtight containers and in lower areas of the fridge or freezer than their cooked counterparts. This will greatly reduce the spread of harmful bacteria.
How to Calculate Portions
Even if it is a hassle to go to the store again, it is better to do that and not to end up with too much chicken on your hands that you have to throw away. So, how do you decide how much chicken to buy? If you already know the number of people who are going to eat, it is easy as pie!
One portion of chicken is generally 3 to 4 ounces: about the size of your palm. One chicken breast amounts to two or three portions. If we are talking about chicken wings, estimate about three or four wings per person. Even though it seems like too little, there will be enough. If you do end up with a shortage of food, you can always have more side dishes!
Be Safe, Always!
Taking care of our bodies and the bodies of our loved ones is extremely important, and food is a big part of that. Now you will never be in doubt over the safety of a piece of chicken again and will be able to decide for yourself whether it is good or bad. How to tell if chicken is bad? Relax: it is easy once you know the signs!