Like all fresh meat products, chicken will only keep for so long in the fridge. The question is, how long is chicken good after the sell by date has passed? We’re here to guide you through the finer points of this issue.
How Long is Chicken Good After Sell By Date?
Fresh chicken should last for 1 to 2 days after the sell by date on the package. After this date passes, the meat might start to go downhill in terms of quality, but it isn’t necessarily spoiled. For optimum results, though, cook or freeze the chicken within 2 days of bringing it home.
About Sell By Dates
You might be surprised to learn that the sell by date isn’t put in place as an indicator of freshness. Instead, it’s there to remind the retailers how long the product has been on the shelf.
After the sell by date has passed, the retailers will remove the chicken from the view of consumers. At this point, they may use it in a recipe or discard it, depending on what condition the meat is in.
Obviously, if several days have passed since the sell by date, it’s safe to assume that the chicken has outlasted its freshness. That’s one of the reasons why stores use these dates. But the meat isn’t necessarily spoiled just because this date has gone by.
How Long Does Raw Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Even if there’s no sell by date on the package, it’s a good idea to cook off raw chicken within 2 days of bringing it home. In fact, we prefer to start prepping it as soon as possible, especially if we intend to use a brine or a marinade.
The chicken might last another day or two, but the quality will be vastly improved if you don’t wait too long. Nobody wants to open a package of raw chicken only to find that it’s gone bad in the fridge (see How To Tell If Chicken is Bad, below).
How Long Is Chicken Good After Sell By Date?
As we pointed out earlier, the sell by date doesn’t mean as much to the consumer as it does to the retailer. But it can still serve as a basic guideline.
If the retailers were hoping to sell the product before a certain date, you can assume that they weren’t expecting it to stay fresh for much longer. Plan to either freeze or cook the chicken within 1 to 2 days of the sell by date.
How Long Does Frozen Chicken Last After Expiration Date?
Freezing chicken extends its shelf life by halting bacterial growth. As long as the meat is stored at a temperature below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, it won’t go bad.
If you don’t think you’re going to cook the chicken off within a day or two, it’s better to put it in the freezer for a later date. That way, you’ll still have the freedom to prepare it however you’d like, instead of being shackled to a set of leftovers.
As long as the chicken is properly stored in the freezer, you can safely ignore any expiration dates. Be aware, though, that freezing meat for an extended length of time can cause it to dry out. The smaller and leaner the cut, the greater the danger.
Whole chickens should be thawed and cooked off within 1 year, while bone-in parts can handle up to 9 months in the freezer. Smaller boneless cuts, such as breasts and tenderloins, might start to dry out after 2 to 3 months.
Instead of relying on the sell by date, label the package yourself, using the date that you put it in the freezer. This will give you a guideline to refer to when deciding what meat you should thaw for dinner.
After the chicken is thawed, it should keep for a day or so, depending on how long you held onto it before adding it to the freezer. The longer it sat in the fridge, the less time you’ll have to cook it off before it spoils.
Storage and Handling Tips
As soon as you get the chicken home from the butcher counter, inspect the packaging. Are there any holes or cracks in the wrapper? If so, add an extra layer of plastic wrap.
You can also place the chicken in a sturdy zip-top bag. It’s fine to do this without unwrapping the meat, provided the bag is large enough. Otherwise, take the chicken out of its original package, then seal it tightly in the bag.
Set the wrapped chicken in the fridge on a platter or rimmed baking sheet. This will catch any juices that might leak out of the package. It’s best to store raw meat on a lower shelf to prevent these juices from contaminating the rest of the fridge’s contents.
When freezing chicken, try to keep it in its original packaging with an extra layer of plastic wrap on top. Add a layer of foil before labeling the package. If the meat is already out of its original wrapper, force as much air out of the package as you can.
How Long Does Cooked Chicken Keep in the Fridge?
Not interested in freezing the chicken? You can prolong its shelf life by cooking it off instead. Once the meat is cooked, it can keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
Chicken needs to cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be safe to consume. Dark meat like the thighs and legs should cook to 180-185 degrees to achieve the ideal texture.
You’ll need to let the chicken cool thoroughly before wrapping the leftovers. Be sure not to let it sit out for longer than 2 hours, though, or it will become a breeding ground for bacteria.
Freezing the leftovers will allow them to keep even longer. Seal the cooked chicken in airtight containers or zip-top bags, being sure to label the packages with the date and contents. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
How To Tell If Chicken is Bad
Most of the time, when chicken has gone bad, you can tell as soon as you open the door of the refrigerator. Rotten chicken has a foul, sulfur-like odor. In order to have gotten to this point, though, it was probably in there for way too long.
To test chicken for freshness, give it a good sniff. If you detect a hint of rotten eggs, or a fishy or sour scent, then the meat is no longer good and needs to be thrown out.
Even if the chicken passes the smell test, you should perform a couple of other tests. Check the color—raw chicken meat is pale peach to dark pink. If it’s turning gray, green, or brown, or if you see any patches of mold, it’s time to discard it.
The meat should also feel slightly damp yet firm to the touch. Chicken that’s overly sticky or slimy has outlasted its freshness.
Don’t be tempted to cook the chicken and taste it to determine whether it’s gone bad. Doing so can lead to gastrointestinal distress, if not outright food poisoning. If you suspect that it’s no longer fresh, it’s best to trust your instincts and throw it out.
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to pay attention to the sell by date when purchasing raw chicken—assuming that you’re planning to cook the meat off within a day or two. It’s there for the people who work in the store, not necessarily for you.
If you open the package and find that the meat has spoiled before the date on the package, that’s a different story. You should be able to return the chicken to the store and get a full refund.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!