We’ve all heard the guidelines about cooking chicken off as soon as possible. That’s what we recommend ourselves, just to be on the safe side. But just how long does raw chicken really last in the fridge? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
How Long Does Raw Chicken Really Last in the Fridge?
When it’s fresh, raw chicken should keep in the fridge for up to 2 days. However, depending on how long the retailers held on to it, the meat could last for another day or more. Our advice would be to keep the meat properly stored in the fridge and to plan on cooking it as soon as possible.
Why It Matters
When chicken goes bad, it has an unpleasant smell and texture. We’ll get into those matters in greater detail later on. In the meantime, all you need to know is that you could potentially get sick from consuming spoiled meat.
Keeping meat properly refrigerated will help to stave off bacterial growth. But if the chicken hangs around in the fridge long enough, spoilage bacteria will eventually begin to grow on the surface.
Consuming rancid meat can cause unpleasant symptoms, ranging from chills and nausea to vomiting and diarrhea. For obvious reasons, it’s better to avoid this whenever possible.
How Long Does Raw Chicken Really Last in the Fridge?
Our recommendation would be to cook off chicken as soon as you can.
It’s fine to leave it in the fridge overnight if you want to put it in a brine, use a marinade, or simply let the skin dry out before you cook it. But even then, it’s better not to keep chicken around for longer than 2 days.
If you aren’t going to be able to cook the chicken within that time frame, put it in the freezer instead. Once it’s frozen, the meat will keep indefinitely—it will just lose some of its original moisture if you store it in the freezer too long.
Another option might be to cook the chicken off and save the leftovers for another day. Cooked chicken should keep for 3 to 4 days with the proper storage. That buys you a decent amount of time.
Should I Go By The Sell-By Date?
According to the FDA, the sell-by date isn’t in place to let you know how long the meat will stay fresh. Instead, it’s a guideline to remind the retailers how long a product has been on the shelf.
It’s possible to open a package of meat which is stamped with a sell-by date that’s still a few days off, only to find that it’s gone bad. Conversely, the contents of a package that’s a few days past the sell-by date might be perfectly fine.
In short, you should rely on the purchase date and your instincts more than any dates that might be stamped on the package.
A Word About Farm-to-Table Practices
Before we get into the details about how long raw chicken will keep, we should point out that these rules apply only to chicken you’ve purchased from a retailer.
When you visit the supermarket or butcher counter, a fair amount of time has already passed since the bird was slaughtered. As you can imagine, that shortens the amount of time you’ll have before the meat starts to go bad.
On the other hand, if you were to buy a freshly slaughtered chicken from a local farm, you would have much more leeway. Chickens aren’t even ready to be cooked until a few days post-slaughter.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be buying chickens this fresh, no matter how reputable the farm. But the meat will still keep for a few days longer than it would if you’d bought it from the store.
When you’re buying fresh poultry in this manner, ask the farmer how long you’ll have to cook the meat after bringing it home. Chances are, it will be several days—possibly even a week or more.
Raw Chicken in Fridge for 2 Days
After 2 days, your raw chicken should still be perfectly fine. Unless you notice any of the signs of spoilage we’ll talk about later, feel free to cook and enjoy it as planned.
Keep the meat in a well-sealed package, and be sure that it stays refrigerated at a temperature below 40 degrees. A fridge temperature of 33 to 38 is ideal for storing meat products.
Raw Chicken in Fridge for 3 Days
Keeping raw chicken in fridge for 3 days is a risky prospect. There’s always a chance that the meat won’t keep for that long, which is why we recommend a storage period of 2 days at the most.
However, you might get lucky. The meat follows a long journey from the slaughterhouse to the butcher counter, and one extra day won’t necessarily send it around the corner into spoilage territory.
Raw Chicken in Fridge for 4 Days
After 4 days, you’re really starting to push your luck. Test the meat by giving it a good sniff and checking it closely for other signs of spoilage. If it passes the test, then feel free to cook it off, but don’t be tempted to wait any longer.
At this point, we wouldn’t recommend freezing the raw chicken, even if it doesn’t appear to have gone bad yet. Freezing it will halt any further bacterial growth, but the bacteria will begin to thrive again as soon as it thaws.
Raw Chicken in Fridge for 5 Days
We wouldn’t recommend storing raw chicken in fridge for 5 days. Going a day or two past the recommended storage period is one thing, especially if the meat still looks and smells fine. But if the chicken has been around that long, it’s better to throw it out.
Raw Chicken in Fridge for 6 Days
After 6 days in the fridge, we would be surprised if the chicken wasn’t beginning to stink up the entire unit. Should you come across a package that’s been on the shelf that long, don’t open it—just cut your losses and throw it away.
Raw Chicken in Fridge for 7 Days
There’s no reason to keep raw chicken in fridge for 7 days without cooking it off, unless you’ve forgotten you bought it in the first place. Unless you purchased the chicken directly from the farmer as described in the section above, discard it at once.
How To Tell When Chicken Is Bad
Fresh chicken should be pale peach to dark pink in color, depending on the cut and the quality of the meat. The flesh will be slightly damp to the touch, with no noticeable odor.
When chicken turns the corner, you’ll probably notice the smell before anything else. Rancid chicken tends to give off a strong odor of sulfur, which is reminiscent of rotten eggs. It may also smell sweet, fishy, or overly sour. All of these signs point to spoilage.
Discoloration is another sign to watch for. Some slight discoloration might be normal, but if the meat has darkened noticeably, or if you see patches of grey or green, it’s time to throw it out. Ditto if you notice any patches of white or blue mold.
Check the texture of the chicken as well. If it’s sticky or tacky, there’s a good chance that spoilage bacteria have taken up residence on the surface. Spoiled chicken might also feel slimy to the touch.
Be aware that if the chicken was previously frozen, the flesh might feel a tad wetter than it did when it was fresh. You should be able to tell whether the sliminess is the result of spoilage or good old-fashioned moisture.
While it might be tempting to cook the chicken so you can perform a taste test, this is a bad idea. Even if you only take a bite or two, eating spoiled meat can cause unpleasant symptoms. It’s better to toss the meat if you suspect that it’s gone bad.
Will Cooking Chicken Kill the Bacteria?
You’ve probably heard that cooking chicken to a certain internal temperature will be sufficient to kill off any harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, that’s only true if the meat is fresh—and if it’s been properly handled.
Raw chicken flesh may harbor bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter. The best way to eradicate these bacteria is to cook the meat to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since chicken is white meat, it has a lower density than beef or pork. That means the bacteria can burrow deeper beneath the surface of the flesh. This is why you need to cook chicken thoroughly, while red meat can be served medium rare.
Now, let’s talk about proper handling and storage techniques. Raw meat needs to be stored at a temperature below 40 degrees until it’s ready to be cooked. If it’s left out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, dangerous bacteria may breed on the flesh, leaving heat-resistant toxins behind.
Spoilage bacteria can create these toxins as well. Once the meat has gone bad, it’s too late to save it by cooking it, even if you were to heat it to 165 degrees.
How Long Does Raw Chicken Last in the Freezer?
Though the chicken won’t spoil during its spell in the freezer, it also won’t have quite the same texture that it had when it was fresh.
The freezing process causes the meat to dry out, especially if it’s kept in those conditions for too long. Repeated thawing and refreezing will also have an adverse effect on the texture.
For whole birds, limit the freezer exposure to 1 year. Smaller cuts should retain their quality for 3 to 6 months, but we would recommend thawing and cooking them as soon as you have the time.
Defrosted chicken should keep in the fridge for 1 to 2 days, depending on how long you waited before you froze it. If it hung around in your fridge for 2 days beforehand, you should cook it as soon as it thaws.
Cooked leftovers can be frozen as well. These won’t last quite as long as the raw product, mainly because they’ve already lost moisture through the cooking process. Try to thaw and reheat leftovers within 3 months.
One side note: If the chicken is already in a sauce, it will maintain its texture for a bit longer. Stews, soups, and pulled smoked chicken in barbecue sauce should keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Should you find that the chicken has been afflicted with freezer burn, don’t worry. It’s fine to trim off the affected patches and cook the rest of the meat as planned.
The Bottom Line
As long as the chicken has been stored properly and isn’t showing any signs of spoilage, you might be able to get away with cooking it 3 to 4 days after bringing it home. We recommend the 1 to 2 day window just because we prefer not to take any unnecessary risks.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!