Consuming spoiled meat leads to food poisoning, followed by potentially dangerous symptoms and consequential dehydration. The only way to prevent this condition is to store this food type properly, double-check it before consumption, and know how to tell if the chicken is bad.

Meat can spoil within a few days, depending on storing conditions. Statistics show that one in four meat pieces contains potentially harmful bacteria. According to CDC, one million Americans get sick annually after consuming poultry. So, be careful!

Safe chicken storage length

Chicken type Storing length
Fridge 41 F (5 C) Freezer 0 F (-17.8 C)
Raw chicken 1 to 2 days 8 to 9 months
Cooked chicken 3 to 4 days 3 to 4 months

How to Tell If Chicken Is Bad

Preparing meat at 165 F (73.9 C) is crucial since detecting subtle signs of bacterial growth is impossible. With a few tricks, you can quickly determine whether your chicken is fresh or has gone bad.

Be prepared that chicken meat has a short shelf life, but the precise period of safe use depends on the storing way and whether you keep it raw or cooked. Once you notice signs of spoilage, it is necessary to throw away the entire piece, not only to cut the affected part.

1. Raw chicken

Raw chicken

The first step before preparing chicken is to check whether it is fresh and without signs of spoilage. Only that way you can protect your health and keep your family safe.

Expiration date

Always check the package with chicken meat for the pack date to ensure it is not expired. The USDA requires this information printed on the packaging as a proven method of poultry product lot identification in the case of a salmonella outbreak.

Besides, the ‘best if used by’ date provides additional quality assurance. In other words, meat is still usable after an expiration date, but its quality is not at its peak anymore.

The rule of thumb is that the only safe way to store raw chicken is to freeze it at 0 F (-17.8 C). That way, the meat can stay edible for 8 to 9 months. Never keep chicken in the fridge for more than two days, regardless of the printed date. It is particularly crucial for defrosted meat.


Raw chicken meat is glossy, firm, and pink with bright white fat and creamy-yellow skin. These colors can vary slightly, depending on the feed type. For instance, organically grown chickens have a richer pink color, while mass-produced come with pale skin.

However, faded and gray meat with dried skin indicates that the chicken is not fresh. For instance, greenish meat with mold traces is spoiled and inedible. Properly stored chicken can sometimes slightly change its color to faded pink with darker spots. However, it is still safe for consumption after proper cooking.


Raw chicken is safe to consume when you can’t feel suspicious and foul scent, particularly the sweet or sour that reminds rotten eggs. Such meat smells bad while cooking, so throwing it away before starting is better.


The raw chicken surface is smooth, soft, slippery, and moist to the touch. Be aware that rough, sticky, and dry meat is spoiled for sure.

2. Cooked chicken

Cooked chicken

Chicken cooked at 165 F (73.9 C) can stay in the fridge longer than raw meat, but you shouldn’t store it for more than 3 to 4 days. Otherwise, you are at risk of foodborne illnesses. Remember that 3,000 people die from food poisoning annually. There are a few tricks to check whether the chicken is safe for consumption.


Cooked chicken has a whitish to light brownish color, so a grey shade means something went wrong. If there is anything suspicious, remove the glaze or breading from the surface and check the color. Additionally, when your meat looks greenish, throw it away immediately.


Never consume meat smelling like rotten eggs. However, relying on the cooked chicken smell can be challenging if you prefer over-seasoned food. Be aware that spices often cover up the meat odor.


Always taste chicken stored for more than two days. The first bite will assure you whether the meat is still suitable for consumption. If it tastes awful, spit it out and throw the rest away without a second thought.


Mold occurrence on the meat surface is a sure sign that your chicken is inedible. You can recognize it by the green or black smelly fuzzy clusters as a sign of decaying and rotten meat. Sometimes it can be challenging to spot these changes because of dressings or seasonings, but the smell may warn you to avoid this dish.

3. Thawed chicken

Thawed chicken

The first thing to do after thawing chicken meat is to check its look and smell, particularly after spending more than nine months in the freezer. Crucial changes to look for include the following:

Ice crust

You can sometimes see ice crust when taking the chicken out of the freezer. A thick layer of ice on the meat surface means untimely thawing of the ice built up on the freezer walls. This icy layer prevents the fresh meat from freezing quickly, making it unsafe to eat.

Freezer burns

Freezer burn is thin white rash-looked marks on the chicken surface. Such a changed surface is rough and slightly raised, indicating that the meat was dehydrated after cold and dry air exposure. It is still edible, but its quality is lower than desired.


Checking frozen chicken for color can be tricky, but it should be off-color with slightly yellowish or grayish fat after defrosting. Once it turns dark grey, it is only suitable for trash.


Once defrosted, chicken may smell bad when kept in the freezer for too long. If you feel something is wrong, you are probably right, so the best option is to put such meat into a trash bin.


If frosted chicken looks suspicious, thaw it out and then check its texture. If the meat’s surface is sticky or you notice a slime layer, it is spoiled, and the only solution is to get rid of it.

How Long Can Chicken Stay Safe?

How Long Can Chicken Stay Safe

Chicken meat is susceptible to spoilage. You can typically expect the first signs of something wrong after leaving it on the kitchen counter for several hours.

FDA recommends a so-called two-hour rule, meaning this meat type shouldn’t stay at temperatures between 40 F and 140 F (4.5 – 60 C) longer. On the other hand, it remains safe for a while when kept at lower temperatures.

How Long Can Chicken Last In the fridge

When checking FDA guidelines, you can see that fresh chicken can safely stay in the fridge for a day or two. Set the temperature to 40 to 41 F (4.5 – 5 C) for safe storing of raw meat. Otherwise, you risk increased bacteria growth, which is potentially dangerous for your health.

Keep raw meat in the original packaging, while the best option to preserve cooked chicken is to put it into an airtight box. Well-prepared and properly stored, cooked meat can stay safe for about 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

How Long Can Chicken Last In the Freezer

How Long Can Chicken Last In the Freezer

The rule of thumb is that raw chicken meat can stay stored in the freezer for 8 to 9 months. However, you can keep it this way for up to a year when putting the whole chicken at a temperature of at least 0 F (-17.8 C).

Extra wrapping over the original packaging can prolong this period for approximately two months. It is also beneficial as a way to prevent leakage during meat thawing.

On the other hand, the best period for storing cooked chicken in the freezer is about 3 to 4 months. Remember that it is possible to notice freezer burns on the meat surface if you fail to pack it properly.

Bacteria start growing in the meat as soon as thawing begins, so you can risk spoilage when leaving it at room temperature for a long time. The best option is to put frozen meat in the fridge to thaw overnight.

Ways to Prevent Chicken Meat from Spoilage

There are several tricks to protect your chicken meat and prevent spoilage while storing it.

1. Avoid leaving it out at high temperatures

Never leave the raw chicken on the kitchen counter for more than two hours to prevent bacteria overgrowing and possible meat spoilage. One of the issues is thawing it outside the fridge, so the best option is to plan ahead and let it gradually defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

2. Never wash chicken meat before cooking

Avoid washing raw chicken before cooking. It is impossible to wash bacteria away, but you can spread them over the kitchen counter.

3. Buy wisely

Be careful while purchasing chicken, and choose the one looking fresh, pink, and soft. Besides, always check the expiration date and plan ahead when you want to use meat.


One of the crucial things to check before consuming chicken meat is whether it is spoiled. Always look for signs showing your meat is unhealthy for eating, whether raw or prepared. The best option is to throw away meat after spending two to four days in the fridge or after its expiration date passes.

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