We hope you never get the chance to find out what chicken tastes like after it’s spoiled. If you follow the correct protocol for storage and handling, you probably won’t.
Still, you’ll be better off if you know how to recognize the signs. What does bad chicken taste like, and can you tell whether or not it’s bad without taking a bite?
What Does Bad Chicken Taste Like?
Chicken that’s gone bad will usually have a sour taste. Most of the time, you should be able to tell whether it’s still good just by smelling it. If you do happen to take a bite or two of spoiled chicken, stop eating immediately and discard what’s left. The more you eat, the likelier you are to get sick as a result.
Average Shelf Life of Raw and Cooked Chicken
Before we get into the details, let’s talk about how long you can expect to keep chicken in the fridge.
Our recommendation would be to cook off the chicken no more than a day after bringing it home. Cooking it the same day is preferable, but if you want to use a brine or marinade, or leave the meat uncovered in the fridge overnight, it’s fine to wait another day.
Raw chicken only lasts for up to 2 days in the fridge. In some cases, it might keep for a day or two longer without deteriorating, but the quality will be much improved if you cook it as soon as possible.
What about cooked leftovers? In this case, you have more leeway in terms of time. That’s why it’s a good idea to cook it right away, even if you’re not planning on eating it all right that minute.
Once the chicken is cooked, you can expect it to keep for 3 to 4 more days with the proper storage. We’ll talk more about that later on.
Telltale Signs That Chicken Has Gone Bad
You can usually tell when chicken has gone bad without having to taste it first. These are some of the signs you can look out for.
First of all, give the meat a hearty sniff. Chicken that’s gone bad often smells foul enough to make the spoilage obvious right away. If it smells like ammonia, sulfur (or rotten eggs), or gives off an overly sweet or sour scent, then it’s time to toss it.
What if it passes the smell test? There could be other telltale signs of spoilage. The meat might have turned gray instead of pink (or white, in the case of cooked meat), or there could be patches of green or blue mold.
The texture of the chicken is another important factor. Raw chicken should feel slightly damp to the touch, but otherwise springy and firm. If it’s soggy, slimy, overly wet, or sticky, then it’s probably harboring too many hazardous bacteria to be safe.
What Does Bad Chicken Taste Like?
When you bite into a piece of spoiled chicken, you’re likely to notice a sour taste. Chicken isn’t supposed to taste sour, as you’ll know if you’ve ever eaten it before. So stop eating the chicken at once if you detect any sourness.
You should never attempt to test chicken for freshness by cooking and eating it. If you think the meat has gone bad, discard it at once.
Of course, if you’re at a restaurant—or in any situation where someone else has prepared the chicken—you won’t know if it’s gone bad until you’ve bitten into it. A bite or two of rancid chicken shouldn’t affect your health, but make sure to stop eating as soon as you notice an “off” flavor.
Again, you might be able to detect the spoilage without taking a bite. Cooking the meat won’t be sufficient to mask the rancid odor—in fact, it might even make it worse. Don’t eat any chicken that smells funky when it comes to the table.
Tips to Prevent Spoilage
If you want to prevent your chicken from going bad in the first place, you’ll need to store it correctly.
The first step is to keep the chicken in the refrigerator as much as possible. It should never be left at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. When meat is stored at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for too long, bacteria thrive on the surface.
If you buy the raw chicken on an especially hot day, be sure to refrigerate it within an hour of taking it off the shelf. The time that it spent in the hot car would have hastened the spread of bacteria, and you’ll want to slow that process as soon as you can.
Some folks are tempted to cook chicken off even if it’s been sitting out for longer than a couple of hours, believing that this will kill the bacteria. But while the bacteria might die off, it will leave behind toxins that are resistant to heat.
It’s permissible to take chicken out of the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour prior to cooking. In fact, doing so will help it to cook more evenly. Just be careful not to go beyond the recommended time frame.
Cook all chicken products to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving. This is the optimum serving temperature for chicken breast and ground chicken, both of which will toughen up if you overcook them.
Cuts that are made up of dark meat, such as the drumsticks and thighs, can handle internal temps of up to 185-190 without becoming tough or stringy. We advocate taking these off the heat at 180 degrees and letting carryover cooking take care of the rest.
Refrigerate all leftovers within 2 hours—or just 1 hour if the temperature outside exceeds 85 degrees. The same rules that apply to raw chicken are in effect here—if the meat sits out too long, it’s no longer safe to consume.
Whether the meat is raw or cooked, the best place to store it is on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Keep it pushed toward the back to protect it from any warm gusts of air that might enter the unit when the door is opened.
How To Freeze Chicken
As we established earlier, you should cook chicken off within 2 days, and consume any leftovers within 4 days. If that’s not a possibility, your best bet is to freeze the chicken.
Freezing meat will halt the growth of bacteria, meaning it will keep indefinitely. However, if you store it in the freezer too long, the texture might begin to suffer. Exposure to the subzero temperatures has the effect of drying out the meat.
To begin, make sure your freezer is set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Any warmer, and the bacteria will continue to spread—albeit very slowly.
Freezing Raw Chicken
You can wrap raw chicken in the same package in which you bought it, but we would suggest transferring it to a sturdy zip-top bag or other freezer-safe container first. That way, you’ll be able to force as much air as possible out of the package.
Label the packages with the date and contents. This will make it easier for you to rotate whatever meat products are in your freezer, thawing the oldest ones first.
You should defrost and cook raw chicken within 4 months to a year, depending on the cut. Whole chickens can be frozen for up to 12 months, but smaller boneless cuts like breasts and tenderloins should be thawed sooner.
Freezing Cooked Chicken
When dealing with cooked leftovers, separate the meat into portions. This allows you to defrost only as much as you think you’ll use, thereby cutting down on waste.
Again, freeze the meat in zip-top bags or reusable freezer-safe containers, packing it as tightly as possible so there’s very little air in each package. Label the containers and freeze for up to 3 months.
Once defrosted, the chicken will keep for about as long as it would have if you hadn’t interrupted the storage process by freezing it. For example, cooked chicken that was frozen right away should keep for another 3-4 days, but if you waited 2 days before freezing it, you’ll only have a day or two to use it up.
What To Do If You Eat Bad Chicken
Again, a couple of bites shouldn’t do any harm. Sometimes, you can get away with eating an entire piece of spoiled chicken without suffering any ill effects—but we wouldn’t rely on this.
Spoilage bacteria is different from the type of bacteria that can be eradicated through the cooking process. It might cause unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. But it’s not the type of food poisoning you’d get from salmonella, for example.
If you do get sick from eating a piece of spoiled chicken, the symptoms usually begin a few hours afterward, and can last for up to 3 days. The length and severity of the illness will depend on how much bad chicken you ate.
What does bad chicken taste like? As you can imagine, it’s not a pleasant sensation.
The only positive thing we can say about it is that you’ll probably notice that something is wrong right away. Don’t be tempted to keep eating “just to make sure”—if you think the meat tastes off, trust your instincts.