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The answer to this question greatly depends on the chicken’s storage conditions. This includes its packaging, where it is kept, and for how long.
It is especially important to be aware of your chicken’s condition. Improper storage can lead to illness, particularly salmonella bacteria poisoning. This is definitely something you want to avoid at all costs if you are preparing chicken dishes for your little ones.
I serve chicken several times each week because it is economical and healthy. I don’t want to put my family or yours at risk by not being informed on how long chicken can be kept.
The Best Option: Freeze It
If you buy your chicken in bulk or have future plans to use it that go beyond a couple of days, your best option is to freeze it, raw or cooked.
How Long Does it Keep?
Frozen chicken stays fresh in the freezer indefinitely, depending on how it is packaged. After several months, it may lose some flavor, but it is still safe to consume.
According to Foodsafety.gov, raw chicken cut into pieces can be stored safely in the freezer for nine months. Whole chickens are safe for up to a year.
Cooked chicken, on the other hand, only keeps for about 2-6 months after it’s been frozen.
Wrap cooked and breaded chicken in saran wrap or foil and put in freezer bags. Dishes cooked with chicken (i.e. casseroles) can also be frozen in an airtight container.
You can pull it from the freezer the night before serving and allow it to thaw in the fridge. If you are thawing at room temperature, return it to the refrigerator as soon as possible when finished.
It is best to keep the frozen chicken in a deep freezer, one that freezes at a rapid rate. Regular freezers bring your food’s temperature down slowly (taking up to 24 hours). This puts it at a higher risk for bacteria growth.
Deep freezing also helps to preserve flavor and texture in your food. Your food freezes before allowing water crystals to build up and penetrate the food’s packaging and cells.
This video from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture explains how the temperature in a freezer can fluctuate, especially when the door opens and closes several times a day.
The temperature fluctuation in your freezer can cause frost burn and affect your food's quality (Source: YouTube)
The thawing and the refreezing process often creates freezer burn. This can greatly affect the quality and flavor of your frozen foods.
Storing them in a deep (frost-free) freezer means there is less temperature fluctuation and your food will last longer.
How to Package Your Chicken for Freezing
Freezer burn also occurs when the contents do not have a seal that is tight and moisture resistant. Simply placing the chicken in its original packaging straight into the freezer or moving the chicken to a standard storage bag is not enough to keep it protected long term.
In this video, you will see some helpful tips for preparing and packaging your chicken for freezer storage.
Use wax paper and freezer bags to keep your chicken protected in the freezer (Source: YouTube)
You should place chicken in a freezer before the sell by date stamped on the package.
By wrapping over the original store package or raw chicken with wax paper, plastic wrap, or heavy-duty aluminum foil and then placing it in an airtight freezer bag, you can extend the shelf life in the compartment for freezing.
Storage bags also come with a handy little label that you can write on. Use this to keep track of the date when it was packaged and how long it will last.
Handle with Care
When handling the chicken, you either want to keep your hands protected or remain highly conscious of your surroundings. This ensures you don’t touch anything with chicken-covered hands. The goal is to spread as few germs as possible.
One great suggestion I came across was to use fold-over sandwich bags (the ones without the zipper) to put your hand in to pick up the raw chicken. You can also use disposable gloves as well.
Start by making sure your work area is clear and clean. If you are cutting up a whole chicken, use a plastic cutting board. You can clean these with disinfectant and wash them in the dishwasher
After you cut the chicken into pieces, wrap the individual pieces in wax paper or saran wrap and then place one or two pieces in a freezer bag. Label and date the freezer bag.
Don’t forget to wipe down any surface that the chicken has touched when you are finished.
How Long Can Chicken Stay in the Fridge?
Closely monitor any chicken you store in the refrigerator. It doesn’t keep as long in the fridge as it does in the freezer. This goes for both raw and cooked chicken.
Storing Raw Chicken in Fridge
Dates printed on packaged chicken do not give you the exact expiration date. They simply indicate the last day chicken should be sold and leave the store. This is called the ‘sell by’ date.
After you purchase your chicken, it safe to keep it for a day or two beyond the date found on the package.
When refrigerating your chicken, you shouldn’t keep it in the fridge for more than a day or two. If you don’t plan to use it before then, prepare it for the freezer.
The temperature in the fridge needs to remain below 40° F. Use a thermometer designed for refrigerators to verify the internal temperature.
Store raw chicken in the coldest area of the fridge. That location is usually the meat drawer or on the bottom shelf toward the back of the appliance. Decrease storage time when there is no guarantee of a temperature below 40° F.
Storing Cooked Chicken in Fridge
If a change in plans means putting off preparing raw chicken for a meal, you should probably just cook it. The ideal place to store prepared chicken is on the middle shelf near the back.
Cooked chicken will last an extra five days in the fridge as explained in this video.
You can get a few more days out of your meat if you cook it before you are ready to use it (Source: YouTube)
Leftover chicken remains safe in the fridge for three to four days after being cooked.
Multi-ingredient dishes that contain chicken, such as a chicken casserole or chicken salad, can also be stored up to four days.
How Can You Tell if the Chicken is Bad?
Consuming expired chicken can result in unwanted health issues. Spoiled chicken are at a higher risk for bacterial contamination such as E. coli or salmonella. Even though cooking spoiled chicken can kill these bacteria, toxins can remain within resulting in a bad case of food poisoning.
In most cases, these bacteria have far more harmful effects on little ones. Their bodies can’t quite handle the same amount adults’ can.
Spoiled chicken has a rancid and sour smell. There is usually very little doubt that your chicken is bad if it smells strongly of rot.
If you question the condition of your frozen chicken, allow it to thaw in the fridge before checking the texture. Raw chicken should be moist; it should not be slimy or sticky.
You should also check your chicken for discoloration. It should still be slightly pink when raw. Spoiled chicken can often have a grayish tint to it.
For cooked chicken, smell and physical condition are going to be your telltale signs. It may smell like rotten eggs or have moldy spots beginning to grow.
Some illness causing microbes do not change the odor or appearance of food. A foul smell or discoloration are not the only characteristics you should use in determining that chicken is bad.
If you have any doubts or find something slightly suspicious about your chicken, don’t take the risk. Throw it out. You especially don’t want the bacteria to wreak havoc on your little one’s system.
How to Defrost Chicken
Once you are ready to use your frozen chicken, set it in the fridge to defrost. Depending on the size, it can take at least a day to thaw completely.
Sometimes chicken just doesn’t thaw quickly enough in the fridge. If it is still partially frozen when you are ready to use it, place it in a warm water bath (while it is still in the packaging). You can leave it for about 20 minutes (depending on how frozen it is) and flip as needed.
Leaving chicken to thaw at room temperature is never a good idea. According to the FDA, the outer layer can become contaminated with bacteria if left at a temperature between 40 and 140 degrees. This is considered the “Danger Zone.”
As a last resort, you can try to defrost your chicken in the microwave. Doing so can cause some areas of the chicken to become warm and partially cook. As a result, you need to cook the chicken immediately after defrosting in the microwave.
When it comes to food, chicken is one thing you never want to take a chance on. Always make sure you store it properly and keep track of when you bought and packaged it. Never cook or eat any chicken that seems questionable in quality. It’s always better to play it safe, especially when your little baby is involved.
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