Food & Drink

How Long Can You Keep Chicken in the Fridge?

Published On 02/08/2017 Published On 02/08/2017
chicken and peas
Chicken and peas | Flickr/Stefano Akram

We humble harvesters of this sacred Earth have stored our bounty in the ice for more than 3,000 years now -- from the ice cellars of ancient China to the refrigerators you've known your whole life. You've probably taken chicken leftovers from a restaurant or saved some after making one of these delicious recipes at home, which leads us to the burning question:

How long can you keep chicken in the fridge?

Raw chicken: You'll need to either cook or freeze it fast. According to recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw chicken will only keep in the refrigerator for about 1-2 days. (Same goes for turkey and other poultry.) If you store it in the freezer in a sealed, freezer-safe container or vacuum-sealed package, it should stay safe to thaw and eat for up to 9 months, in pieces, or up to 12 months, for a whole chicken. 

Cooked chicken: You have a little more time, but not much. According to recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cooked chicken will keep in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days. (Same goes for turkey and other poultry.) If you store cooked chicken in the freezer in a sealed, freezer-safe container or vacuum-sealed package, it can stay safe to thaw and eat for up to 4 months.

How to tell if chicken is bad -- whether it's cooked or raw

There are a few ways to make sure the chicken you've thrown in the fridge has gone bad or not. The tests for raw vs. cooked chicken are similar, but not the same. Here's a couple of handy acronyms by yours truly to help you remember: the SPOT┬ę test and the SMOT┬ę test. (Catchy, I know!)

For raw chicken, SPOT it...

  • Smell: Does it reek? The odor of rotten chicken is distinct and pungent. If the chicken has not gone bad, it should just smell like chicken and not give off a strong, repellent smell. 
  • Package: If it's still sealed in the package, check the "best by" date. If you've blown past that and it's been in the fridge for a week, it's probably not safe. 
  • Observe: The color of fresh chicken is a pale pink. If it's turned gray, it is probably not safe.
  • Touch: Chicken shouldn't have a slimy, snotty texture. If it feels anything like mucus, throw it out.

For cooked chicken, SMOT it...

  • Smell: Same as the raw chicken test, but be wary of spices that might mask the odor of bad chicken. If it's past its point, it will probably smell like rotten eggs. 
  • Mold: This you should notice immediately. No part of your chicken should be growing black or green fuzz.
  • Observe: Again, color matters. Cooked chicken should look white underneath, so if it looks gray or discolored, it's not safe.
  • Taste: Obviously no one wants to eat bad chicken, but if all the other tests fail, and you're really unsure, try a small bite of it. You'll know immediately if it doesn't taste good, at which point you should spit it out and chuck it.

Always remember -- no matter how delicious a cooked dish was when it was freshly made -- if its gone bad, it will probably get you sick. Be merciless. When in doubt, throw it out.

Eric Vilas-Boas is a writer and editor at Thrillist constantly asking himself questions like these. Follow him @e_vb_.

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