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How to Tell If the Raw Chicken in Your Fridge Is Bad

Not sure if that chicken you bought is still good to eat? Here's what health experts and a chef say to do.

How many times have you bought chicken breasts, thighs, or cutlets from the grocery store for a recipe you planned on making that night but instead, you ended up ordering take-out and stowed the raw meat into the depths of your refrigerator? We've all done it and we're not here to judge you. However, there's something you should be mindful of after you decide to save that pre-cut chicken for a later date—whether it's still fresh. That brings up the real question: do you know how to tell if chicken is bad?

This is important to learn, seeing as some 48 million people, or about 1 in 6 Americans, are sickened from a foodborne illness every year with 1 million of those cases having to do with chicken, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Salmonella, the pathogen that's found in uncooked eggs and poultry, is the second leading pathogen to cause domestically acquired (food made in your home) foodborne illness. We consulted head chef at HelloFreshClaudia Sidoti, for the lowdown on how to check if your chicken is still good to eat or if it's time to toss it out, but first, we're going to recap why it can be dangerous.

Why is raw chicken bad for you?

Several types of bacteria can live on chicken before it's cooked. Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens can cause symptoms like fever, diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, and dehydration. These dangerous bacteria can be transmitted if chicken is undercooked, but also if raw chicken is out and comes into contact with cutting boards, countertops, utensils, or other foods, the CDC says. Storing raw chicken on its own is a good idea. This way juices don't come into contact with anything else in your kitchen.

And after handling refrigerated or frozen raw chicken, you should always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water to prevent the spread of germs.

What are the tell-tale signs that raw chicken has gone bad?

There are three easy ways you can immediately check to see if your chicken has peaked far past it's prime once it's stored properly.

  • First, Sidoti advises looking for a change in color. "Fresh, raw chicken should have a pink, fleshy color. As it starts to go bad, the color fades to a shade of grey. If the color starts to look duller, you should use it immediately," she says. However, once the meat begins to look grey, then it's time to toss out that chicken.
  • Second, Sidoti says to trust your nose. "Raw chicken that has gone bad has a very potent odor. Sometimes it can be described as a sour smell. If the chicken has taken on an odor of any sort, it's safest to toss it," she explains.
  • Thirdly, the chef instructs to feel the meat. That's right, just get right in there and touch it to determine if it's unsafe to eat. "Raw chicken naturally has a glossy, slimy texture," she says. However, if the meat is extra slimy that's another indication that could have gone bad.

Is there any way to salvage raw chicken that may have already spoiled?

Basically, if it's gone bad, your best bet is to just throw it out.

"It's usually safe to just toss it," says Sidoti. "You put yourself at serious risk of getting sick."

Note: The expiration date may also be labeled as the "sell by" date. Make sure to only buy chicken before that projected date to ensure the most safety.

What about cooked chicken—about how long does it last in the refrigerator?

"According to the USDA, cooked chicken stored in the refrigerator is safe to eat for three to four days if it is properly stored," says Sidoti. "If you want to further extend shelf life, you can store it in the freezer where it will last for about three months. Once stored in the freezer, take it out the night before and let it thaw in the fridge."

The big takeaway: Don't let that cooked meat hang out in the fridge for a week! You can tell if cooked chicken has gone bad if it gives off a rancid odor or is beginning to look grey. Once again, trust your senses.

Related: The Best and Worst Fast-Food Chicken Sandwiches, According to a Dietitian

Any tips on how to further prevent raw chicken from going bad?

There is one simple trick to ensuring your chicken does not quickly spoil: Fresh chicken must be kept cold, so don't ever let it sit out on the counter, table, or anywhere that isn't refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

"This will extend its shelf life and prevent the growth of bacteria. According to the USDA, raw chicken will only keep in the refrigerator for about one to two days," says Sidoti. "If kept in the freezer, it should stay safe to thaw and eat for up to nine to 12 months."

And she's right. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says a raw, whole chicken can last that long, but if it's in pieces, it can last for one to two days in the fridge but only nine months in the freezer.

Anything else to know about how to tell if the chicken in your fridge is bad?

Sidoti says, "When in doubt, throw it out!"

You heard the chef; it's better to be safe than sorry.

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Inspired by The New York Times best-selling book series, Eat This, Not That! is a brand that's comprised of an award-winning team of journalists and board-certified experts, doctors, nutritionists, chefs, personal trainers, and dietitians who work together to bring you accurate, timely, informative, and actionable content on food, nutrition, dieting, weight loss, health, wellness, and more. Read more about Eat This