Signs that Chicken has Gone Bad

If you purchase your chicken from a well-known, reputable source, chances are your purchase will be fresh. However, chicken is still one of the foods high on the list that can cause food poisoning. With life being as busy as it is, it is often easy to stow away your cutlets, chicken breasts or thighs in the fridge or pre-cut chicken for a later date almost forgotten they were there. Whether raw or cooked, when it is time to cook or eat the chicken—is it still fresh? How long in the fridge is too long for both raw or cooked? And, how do you tell if it has gone bad?

With the help of expert advice and information from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA), dietitians, and butchers, here are several tips to help you identify the signs chicken has gone bad.

Raw Chicken

Check the Date

Checking the date on a package of chicken, whether raw, cooked, or pre-sliced is the first step to see if the chicken is still safe for consumption. If the printed date has passed, the quality of the meat isn't that great, although still useable. But only if the raw chicken is cooked within 1-2 days past the date on the package.

Generally, raw poultry kept in a fridge at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit should be stored no longer than two days before being cooked. However, raw poultry that is immediately frozen can last up to a year in the freezer.

Use Your Senses

Sight

The first sense you should use to gauge whether the raw chicken has gone bad is to note if the flesh has changed any color. Fresh, raw chicken should have a pale pink, peachy color. As it begins to go bad, the color fades to a shade of grey. If the color of your raw chicken begins looking duller, cook it immediately and do not wait any longer to use it.

Check to see if any fatty parts have turned yellow or bright yellow, too. Fat with bright yellow spots is another sign chicken is no longer safe to eat.

Once it starts turning grey or shows yellow spots on fat, do not cook it! Toss the chicken away immediately.

Scent

Trust your nose. When you unwrap the raw chicken from its packaging and it has a very sour and pungent scent—or smells at all, then do not cook it. Throw it away. Chicken that is fresh and fine to eat should have little to no scent.

Touch

If purchasing chicken at the grocery store, before you buy it, feel it. When at home, use your sense of touch on the chicken—yes, even raw—to see if it is safe to eat or not. Raw chicken not expired naturally seems glossy and a bit slick or slimy to the touch. Try rinsing the chicken. If the sliminess remains even after rinsing, that is a sign your chicken has gone bad.

Cooked Chicken

Fried, baked, boiled, or grilled, chicken is a wonderfully versatile protein for any meal. But even cooked chicken can go bad. Do you know whether your leftover roast chicken is still good to eat? Let us go over some of the obvious and not-so-obvious signs of cooked chicken that is too far gone to safely eat.

Cook it Thoroughly

The number one way to avoid cooked chicken from going bad is to ensure you have cooked it thoroughly according to the USDA recommendations. They recommend you cook your chicken until a thermometer inserted reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit, measuring the temperature either along the inside of the thigh or the thickest portion of the breast.

If you use an instant-read thermometer, it is important to never let the tip of it contact bone, as this will give you an incorrect reading. Cooking bone-in chicken takes longer than deboned chicken, and stuffed chickens require longer cooking than chicken without stuffing.

If you do not have an instant-read thermometer, the best way to tell if a chicken is undercooked is if there is still pink on the inside. Unlike pork and beef, you do not want any pink on the inside of chicken meat.

Use Your Senses

Just as you would use your senses to find out if a raw chicken has gone bad, you can use the same senses to determine whether the cooked chicken has gone bad.

  • Sight - Cooked chicken freshly made will have a brown or white color to the meat without pink. As with a raw piece of chicken, cooked chicken that is or has gone bad will begin to change color. As it spoils, chicken that has gone bad will begin to look grey or even green-grey. If your cooked chicken has changed color, it is time to throw it out.

  • Smell - If you open a container of cooked chicken and it has a new odor, especially if it is a sour, offensive scent or it suddenly looks or feels slimy with white spots or obvious mold—throw it out.

As with raw chicken, if you are in doubt of how old it is, forgot the precise date of when it was prepared, or are dubious—it is always safer to simply not eat it than take the health risk and consume it. When in doubt, toss it out.

Frozen Chicken

While storing raw or cooked chicken in the freezer will keep it safe for a longer period, even frozen chicken can expire and become unsafe for consumption.

Scent

Surprisingly, frozen chicken that has expired, despite being kept frozen will begin to have an unpleasant odor. Unwrap your frozen chicken and give it a good sniff. Any hint of foul or odors that you find unpleasant is an indication that the chicken has spoiled.

Touch

If the frozen chicken has no unpleasant odor, rewrap and thaw it slowly in the refrigerator. If after thawing, you touch the chicken and it feels sticky or tacky—run the chicken under cool water. If the sticky or tackiness remains or it still feels slimy, the chicken has gone bad. Do not cook with it, throw it away.

Color

Changes in color, just like with raw or cooked chicken, is an indication that the chicken has expired. Unlike the raw or cooked chicken, if the chicken has become faded, or paler in color than when it was frozen or, on the opposite end, has darkened—it is no longer safe to consume.

It is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to ensuring you and your family avoid health issues due to food expiring. We encourage you to remember proper storage, cooking, and freezing techniques for a safer, more enjoyable meal every time.