How to Tell if Chicken Is Bad

You don't want to use chicken when it's past its prime. Here's how to tell if chicken is bad.

Ugh, is there anything worse than being greeted with strange smell after you open a package of chicken? Finding spoiled food is a surefire way to ruin any excitement you had about cooking dinner! But is smell enough to know that your chicken has gone from fresh to faulty? As a professional chef, I’ve found that it’s a good indicator, but there are plenty of other ways to tell if food is spoiled.

How to Tell if Chicken Is Bad

Expiration Date

It’s sometimes hard to know when food has expired. Counting the days is always a good way to start! Chicken’s expiration date varies depending on whether the chicken is cooked or uncooked.

Raw Chicken

Before you leave the grocery store, take a peek at the “use by” date on the package. The USDA says this date isn’t exactly an expiration date—it’s the date after which the chicken begins to lose its “peak quality.” So you’ll have up to two days after that date to use the chicken. Beyond two days, pay attention to other sensory signs to know if the chicken has gone bad.

Cooked Chicken

After cooking chicken, pop it into the refrigerator to cool down as quickly as possible. Don’t forget to label and date your storage container so you’ll know when the chicken expires. Eat it between three and four days after cooking; otherwise, it needs to be tossed.

Learn more about how long cooked chicken lasts in the fridge.

Smell

Whether you’re dealing with raw or cooked chicken, a quick smell test will clue you in if something is amiss. Fresh chicken has very little aroma, although it may have a slight “funky” odor if it’s been sealed with its juices for a while. Chicken that smells strongly should be a warning sign. If the odor is fishy, sour or sulfur-like—reminiscent of rotten eggs—it’s no longer safe to eat.

Texture

Touching raw chicken is no one’s favorite task, but it’s an important way to know whether the chicken is still fresh. Raw chicken should feel glossy, moist and slightly slippery. If it’s tacky, slimy or sticky, toss it in the trash. The same goes for cooked chicken, which should be firm and dry to the touch.

Appearance

If the chicken has gone bad, you’ll notice visual signs of spoilage. Pay attention to these signs in raw and cooked chicken. (The same rules apply for salmon—learn to tell when it has gone bad.)

Raw Chicken

Raw chicken meat should be pink and glossy, and the fat should be bright white. Skin-on chicken will have creamy-colored or yellow skin, depending on the chicken’s feed. If any of those colors fade to gray, or if the skin looks dried and doesn’t move easily, the chicken is not fresh. If the gray darkens or turns green or yellow, it’s well past its prime.

Cooked Chicken

When chicken is cooked to proper temperatures (165°F), it turns from pink to opaque white. Cooked chicken is safe to eat as long as it maintains that white color and it passes all the other spoilage tests. If you notice any other colors, like yellow or green, throw away those leftovers.

How Long Does Chicken Last?

In the fridge, uncooked chicken lasts up to two days. Once it’s cooked, enjoy it within three to four days. If you can’t meet those dates, pop the chicken in the freezer. For best flavor, use cooked, frozen chicken within four months. When properly packaged, frozen raw chicken maintains its quality for up to a year. (Learn if freezer-burned food is safe to eat.)

It’s hard to know when it’s time to toss leftovers. Learn how to tell if ground beef has gone bad.

Need to use your chicken ASAP? It’s time to whip up one of our easy chicken dinner recipes.

Easy Chicken Dinner Ideas
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Originally Published in Taste of Home

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.