How Long Can Chicken Stay in the Fridge?
The answer to the question (How long can chicken stay in the fridge?) depends on storage conditions. Keep chicken refrigerated at all times. Properly stored, chicken remains safe for a short time after the ‘sell by’ date.
Chicken is a source of lean protein, which provides essential nutrients. It can, however, be contaminated by pathogens that cause illness. The most common bacterial illness is salmonella poisoning.
The packaging also affects the shelf life of the chicken. Being placed in the cooling section or freezer makes a difference in the shelf life, as does being frozen and thawed.
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, so I provide the following information.
Keeping Chicken in the Refrigerator Beyond the ‘Sell By’ Date
Dates printed on packaged chicken do not give you the exact expiration date. The day on the packaging indicates the last day chicken should be sold and leave the store.
After you purchase chicken, it safe to refrigerate it for a day or two beyond the ‘sell by’ date found on the package. You can keep the unopened raw chicken in the original store package in the refrigerator for one to two days.
The temperature in the fridge should be below 40° F. Use a thermometer designed especially for refrigerators to verify the internal temperature. You should 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.
If a change in your plans means putting off preparing raw chicken for a meal, you should probably cook the chicken before returning it to the refrigerator. It will last five more days as explained on a Maggi brand video.
Keeping Chicken in the Freezer
To further extend chicken’s shelf life, you should freeze it. If the chicken that you purchased is not frozen, you should cut it into pieces. If you are not going to use it within two days, then freeze it.
Chef Amy from Chef for One Day tells us the environment in a kitchen must be clean when working with raw chicken.
Use a plastic cutting board; that can be cleaned with bleach and washed in the dishwasher, to cut chicken. In the video, Amy illustrates how to cut chicken legs and thighs properly.
After you cut the chicken into pieces, wrap the individual pieces in wax paper or saran wrap, then place one or two pieces in a freezer bag. Label and date the freezer bag.
Lorraine Witte demonstrates how to handle chicken before placing in the frozen food section in a video. A representative of the University of California’s Department of Science and Technology offers a better alternative.
You should place chicken in a freezer before the expiration date stamped on the package. By overwrapping the original store package with airtight freezer paper, plastic wrap, or heavy-duty aluminum foil, you can extend the shelf life in the compartment for freezing.
Chicken, frozen at 0° F, can be kept safely in the freezer indefinitely. After several months, it may lose some flavor, but it is safe to consume. It is best to keep the frozen chicken in a deep freeze that requires manual defrosting.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture put out a video that explains how the temperature in frost free freezers fluctuates. The thawing and the refreezing process is responsible for freezer burn. Freezer burn also occurs when the contents do not have a seal that is tight and moisture resistant.
According to Foodsafety.gov, uncooked chicken, cut into pieces, can be stored safely in the freezer for nine months. Whole chickens are safe for up to a year.
Keeping Frozen and Thawed Chicken
Once you have successfully frozen and thawed the chicken, you can store it an additional day or two. Defrost it in the cooling section of the refrigerator. At room temperature, bacteria grow rapidly.
Chicken left over two hours at room temperature should be discarded.
If frozen chicken, left to thaw in the refrigerator, is not completely thawed when ready to prepare, Lorraine Witte tells us it is safe to place chicken in lukewarm water for 20 minutes and then flip and repeat.
You may need to place a heavy object such as a can of vegetables on the chicken to keep it from floating to the water’s surface.
Keeping Cooked Chicken in the Refrigerator
It is possible for you to place cooked chicken in the freezer for up to four months. Cooked breaded chicken can be wrapped in saran wrap or foil and put in freezer bags in the freezing section for one to three months.
You can pull it from the freezer the night before serving and allow it to thaw in the cooling section.
Leftover chicken remains safe in the cooling section for three to four days after being cooked. Put cooked chicken in the refrigerator as soon as possible after cooling to room temperature.
The ideal place to store prepared chicken is on the middle shelf of the fridge near the back.
Multi-ingredient dishes that contain chicken, such as a chicken casserole or chicken salad, can also be stored up to four days.
Knowing the Chicken
Signs of bad chicken are slimy texture, a dull color, or a sour smell. Discard any chicken with an off appearance or smell.
Chef Amy from Chef for One Day explains in the following video the importance of testing the smell of packaged chicken, even when purchased before the ‘sell by’ date.
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.
Do not cook or serve chicken past the guidelines stated above. Use food-safety principles to cooking chicken at the safest and freshest for your family.
If you rinse or wash chicken, believed to be bad, you will only contaminate the kitchen surfaces and sink without reducing the microbes to any appreciable extent.
If you have any questions, please comment.