Is that chicken still good? Whether you’re standing in the light of your refrigerator looking at the raw chicken breasts you planned to grill a few nights ago or considering reheating the chicken wings from last weekend’s BBQ, deciding if your chicken is still good can be tricky.
And the steaks are high, eating spoiled chicken can cause food poisoning. The good news is that established guidelines for both raw and cooked chicken are accurate and easy to remember.
NOTE: This article was reviewed by Melissa Macher, Registered Dietician and Food Scientist for safety and accuracy.
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How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Maybe you got a little carried away with a new grilled chicken recipe this weekend, and you’ve got more chicken than even your kids (who were soooooo hungry) can finish off.
When it comes to how long leftovers last in the fridge, the USDA recommends using cooked leftovers within three to four days, noting that refrigeration (and freezing) slows but does not stop bacterial growth.
So, if you have fried, roasted, fast food, or any cooked chicken leftovers, you can only safely eat them within the next four days – after that, it’s time to toss it. If you’ve got more chicken than you can eat in the next four days, you can easily freeze cooked chicken too.
How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Freezer?
If you went a bit hard on the chicken portions on your last smoking day, you can simply freeze your cooked chicken – as long as it is stored properly and kept consistently frozen. When stored in an airtight glass or plastic container, cooked chicken can last up to four months in the freezer before the taste and texture begin to change.
When you’re ready to eat frozen precooked chicken simply thaw, reheat, and enjoy.
Read More >> How to Grill Chicken Breasts
How Long Does Raw Chicken Last in the Fridge?
If you just bought a raw chicken from the supermarket, chances are you’ll be stashing it first in your fridge for a while. But, be careful.
Storing raw chicken in the refrigerator for more than two days, (regardless of if you bought it in pieces or as a whole) puts you on the highway to the danger zone. The countdown starts the day you purchase your chicken.
If you want your raw chicken to stand by for more than just a day or two, it’s best to store it in your freezer.
How Long Can Marinated Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Marinated chicken can last up to two days in the fridge before going bad. After 48 hours, the marinade will start to break down the fibers in the poultry. Not only can that make your chicken texture mushy, you’ll also put yourself at risk of catching a foodborne illness after the 48-hour point.
How Long Does Raw Chicken Last in the Freezer?
Your freezer will keep raw chicken safe for months. According to the USDA, whole raw chicken can last up to a year in the freezer, while chicken parts are good for nine months, and giblets and ground chicken for three to four months.
How to Freeze Chicken for Later Use
Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling chicken, especially if it’s raw. Place the chicken in high-quality zipper-lock freezer bags in a single layer taking care to remove as much extra air as you can.
Place the chicken in the back area of your freezer away from the door to prevent freezer burn.
Read More >> Can You Grill Frozen Chicken?
Risks of Eating Spoiled Chicken
We all know a guy that says ‘ah it’s fine’ when consuming leftovers. But you don’t want to push the limits on storage time. The number one reason you shouldn’t risk eating chicken after it goes bad is bacterial contamination, which causes food poisoning.
And I don’t know about you but I would much rather toss out a few pieces of chicken than have a household full of sick people because we wanted to risk it.
If you’re unfamiliar with salmonella or campylobacter, these are bacteria that typically contaminate chicken meat. These toxins cling to your chicken meat and thrive as time goes by. When chicken is properly handled and cooked, the bacteria are killed. But remember – refrigeration (or freezing) only slows bacteria growth, it doesn’t stop it.
If I still haven’t convinced you not to reheat and eat your past due chicken, the symptoms of food poisoning can be severe including:
- Bloody excretions
- Fever and chills
- Locking yourself in the bathroom surrounded only by regret
Many cases of food poisoning require a doctor or hospital visit, costing hundreds of dollars. An untreated case of food poisoning can even lead to death in some cases.
To prevent physical, emotional, and financial suffering, we recommend that you discard your chicken as soon as you see any of the warning signs of spoilage or if it is outside of the safe time frames.
Signs That Your Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad
There are nights when it’s nearly irresistible to just toss some leftover grilled chicken on the dinner table. However, it’s essential to always look out for telltale signs that your cooked chicken is no longer safe for eating:
- Any signs of mold growth
- Any general color changes
- Any pieces of pink flesh in your cooked chicken
Signs That Your Raw Chicken Has Gone Bad
Before putting those raw chicken breasts straight in the oven check for signs that they have gone bad. Remember, you’re risking food poising! Here are a few ways to tell if your chicken has gone bad:
- Any gray green color or discolorations in the flesh of
- Yellowish chicken fat
- A foul smell, usually vaguely rotten-egg scented
- A sticky, tacky, or slimy texture
- Chicken past its expiration date
If you see any of these signs, discard your meat altogether.
However, seeing a darker red or pink in your chicken meat doesn’t always mean it’s gone bad. These color changes are normal for chicken meat as long as it is stored properly.
How To Properly Store Cooked and Raw Chicken
Safely handling chicken meat is simple, but some people may neglect food safety steps when storing their chicken in their fridge and freezer.
First, before storing cooked chicken in the fridge, ensure that it’s cooled down. Putting leftovers in a shallow container helps them to cool faster before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer. Wrap the cooled chicken in airtight foil or plastic wrap, so it retains its quality.
Similarly, you can wrap raw chicken pieces in aluminum foil before putting it in the fridge for better quality. Keep a whole raw chicken in it’s original packaging.
Never put raw and cooked food beside each other. The raw chicken juices may come into contact with the cooked food, spreading bacteria and contaminating your ready-to-eat meal.
Remember to put the date on the container so you can keep track of its condition.
Thawing Your Chicken
While some people may microwave or soak in water to thaw frozen chicken, the USDA recommends thawing chicken in the fridge.
Read More >> How To Thaw Your Chicken Properly
How to Use Up Cooked Chicken
Leftover cooked chicken can a lifesaver for a quick weeknight meal or to make a more complicated dish more manageable. From chicken tacos to casseroles, even soups, leftover chicken can be used in place of any cooked or rotisserie chicken in most recipes.
If you want to learn more about grilling, check out these other helpful resources! Have any questions? Please feel free to leave a comment below.