You may have noticed that perishable goods, such as raw chicken, come with a sell-by date to determine their freshness.
While there are use-by dates and expiration dates as well, most proteins have a sell-by date to help you gauge their quality.
This whole issue of dating might confuse a lot of people in terms of whether the chicken is okay to be consumed after the sell-by date or should be thrown out.
So, how long is chicken good for after the sell-by date? If properly stored, the chicken will be safe to eat for 1-2 days after the sell-by date, after which, it will start to lose its quality after every passing day since bacteria starts to grow on it.
Read on to find out more about the sell-by date, what it tells you about the chicken’s quality, how to best store it so that it stays fresh, and how to tell if it’s not safe to eat:
Is Chicken Good After Its Sell-By Date?
Although the sell-by date on fresh chicken is mainly for the retailer’s benefit so that they know when to pull it from the refrigerator, you can use it to determine when it is no longer safe for consumption.
In order to enjoy the freshest chicken, it is recommended that you buy your chicken before or on the sell-by date.
It remains safe for consumption for up to 2 days after the sell-by date. However, if you do not intend to use it within 1-2 days of purchasing it, it is best that you freeze it.
The reason for this is that fresh chicken is at its best quality by the sell-by date and starts to lose quality every day after it.
If it is 2 weeks or more past its sell-by date, it is too old to use and must be discarded due to concern from a safety standpoint.
After purchasing chicken, it may be refrigerated for a day or two, during which the sell-by date may expire. In this case, it will remain safe to use after the sell-by date if it is stored properly.
Most proteins last for a reasonable time period if they are stored in optimal conditions and usually come with a sell-by date instead of a use-by or expiration date.
Sell-By Date Vs Use-By Date Vs Best Before
When buying packaged foods, we often find ourselves looking for some type of sell-by, use-by, or best-before date to help us determine their freshness and how long they will be good to use.
The exact meaning of these dates can oftentimes be confusing, leading to millions of dollars worth of good food going to waste every year.
You may wonder if the products are safe to eat or need to be tossed in the bin, and more often than not, to be on the safe, the latter option is chosen.
The “sell-by” date on a product indicates the end of a product’s shelf life at the store. It is the last date that stores are supposed to display the product on sale to the public, after which it should be removed.
Even though food products can be enjoyed a couple of days after the sell-by date, it is not recommended to purchase something with an expired sell-by date.
Ground meat and poultry can be consumed 1-2 days past their sell-by date, beef stays good for 3-5 days, and eggs can be consumed 3-5 weeks after the shelf-life expiration date.
The “use-by” date on a product indicates the last day that the manufacturer vouches for the quality of the product. It is the date recommended for the consumer to use the product in order to enjoy the product’s peak quality.
You can eat foods after their use-by date, except for certain foods such as infant formula, but they are not likely going to be their best version in terms of quality.
Best Before Date
Similar to the use-by date, the “best before” date also indicates the last day that the product retains its original optimal quality.
The best before date may also be referred to as the “best if used by date” by many manufacturers and the food remains safe to eat and its shelf-life remains active a certain days after the best-before date has passed.
Best Way To Store Raw Chicken
Chicken is a popular form of meat that is considered a staple in many households. We all love roasted chicken, deep-fried chicken, creamy mushroom chicken, chicken pot pie, and of course, chicken wings!
While chicken is an extremely good and healthy source of protein, it is considered one of the most difficult raw foods to handle and store due to its high risk of bacterial contamination.
For this reason, after returning from the grocery store with your fresh, raw chicken, make sure to place it in the fridge or freezer right away.
If you plan on using it within a day, you can keep it in the refrigerator. Any longer than that and you should store it in the freezer.
Raw chicken should never be left on the kitchen countertop because any temperature below 40°F is the danger zone for bacterial growth. It should be kept in the refrigerator at or below 40°F, or frozen at 0°F or lower.
Storing Raw Chicken In The Refrigerator
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to store raw chicken in the refrigerator:
- Place the chicken in an airtight bag or wrap it in food-grade plastic.
- Transfer it into an airtight container with a lid.
- Place the airtight container on a tray and put it in the back of the refrigerator where it stays the coldest. The front of the refrigerator tends to be warmer, as compared, because of the door opening and closing and the warm air getting in.
- Use it within 2 days. Write the date and a reminder on a sticky label and put it on the chicken to use it before it goes bad.
It is important to keep the chicken in a rimmed tray so that there is less chance of the juices dripping in your refrigerator and making a grimy mess.
In addition to that, always make sure to use a covered container since uncovered chicken will dry out much quicker and has a shorter shelf life than covered chicken.
Also, keeping it covered minimizes the risk of the chicken coming into contact with other food items in your refrigerator and spreading its bacteria. Furthermore, it prevents the chicken from absorbing odors from the fridge.
Storing Raw Chicken In The Freezer
Since it is not recommended to store raw chicken in the refrigerator for more than 2 days, it is always best to freeze it to make it last longer.
Raw chicken can last in the freezer for up to 9 months if it is stored below 0°F. Beyond the 9-month mark, the likelihood of freezer burn increases substantially, affecting the taste, texture, and quality of the chicken.
One thing to keep in mind is that since household freezers tend to be opened and closed very frequently, their internal temperature might fluctuate.
Therefore, in order to ensure the best quality, it is recommended to consume frozen chicken within 3-4 months.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to store raw chicken in the freezer:
- Wrap each piece of the raw chicken in plastic wrap to minimize the risk of freezer burn.
- Place the plastic-wrapped pieces of chicken into a freezer-safe bag. You may also wrap them in aluminum foil before placing them into the bag.
- Squeeze all the air out of the freezer-safe bag to extend the chicken’s storage life.
- Label the bag with the date before keeping it in the freezer so that you know how long it will be safe to consume.
If you have small pre-cut pieces of chicken, such as chicken strips or chunks, you may require a slightly different approach since it would be too time-consuming to wrap, say, 20 individual pieces of chicken in plastic wrap before freezing.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to store small pre-cut pieces of chicken in the freezer:
- Lay the pieces of raw chicken on a baking tray lined with a baking sheet in a way that they are not overlapping or touching each other.
- Transfer the baking tray into the freezer for 45 minutes.
- Once the chicken is frozen, transfer the individual pieces into a large freezer-safe bag and put it into the freezer.
Although this is a time and space-saving technique of storing small pieces of chicken for longer periods, flash freezing increases the risk of freezer burn and may cause the chicken to turn a bit dry.
If you have a vacuum sealer, it may be a good idea to use it since it removes all the air surrounding the chicken and prevents freezer burn, prolonging its life and quality.
It is best practice to pre-freeze the chicken before vacuum-sealing it to prevent any harmful bacterial growth and spread. It also helps seal in the chicken juices so that they don’t get sucked out in the vacuum-sealing process.
Vacuum-sealed chicken can be stored up to 5 times longer than regular frozen chicken and will last around 2-3 years in the freezer!
This, obviously, depends on several factors such as the freshness of the chicken when it was first sealed and whether the sealing process is done properly or not.
How To Tell If Chicken Is Not Safe To Eat
Raw chicken can, very certainly, go bad and be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.
It can go bad faster once it is removed from its packaging since it is exposed to oxygen, which acts as fuel for bacterial growth.
Also, since bacteria can start to grow at temperatures below 40°F, raw chicken must not be left on the kitchen counter and instead stored either in the refrigerator or freezer, depending on how soon you plan on cooking it.
That being said, chicken is one of those foods that you would not want to eat if there is even the slightest hint that it might be bad due to the risk of food-borne illnesses.
Here are some easy ways to tell if the chicken is not safe to eat:
- Refer to its sell-by date. Use it only 1-2 days past it, and that too it if has been stored properly.
- Give it a sniff. If it smells weird and sour, trust your instincts and throw it out before it ruins other foods as well.
- Check its color. If it has a grey hue rather than the natural pink, or has signs of visible mold, it is not safe to eat at all.
- Feel its texture. If it develops a slimy, snot-like layer on top, it is way past its use-by date and must be discarded.
If the chicken fails any of the smell, color, feel, or sell-by date tests, it is better to throw it out since it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Now that we’ve discussed how long chicken is good for after its sell-by date, how to store it properly, and how to tell if it has gone bad, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have:
How do you thaw frozen chicken?
One of the most important things to keep in mind when thawing frozen chicken is to keep it below 40°F since anything above that is considered the danger zone for bacterial growth.
The best way to safely defrost your chicken is to transfer the freezer bag from the freezer into the refrigerator and leave it there overnight to thaw fully.
Alternatively, you can run cold water continuously over the chicken until it is thawed.
You may also submerge it in cold water, making sure to change the water every 30 minutes so that it remains cold enough. Never use hot water as it can encourage bacterial growth.
If you are in a hurry, you can use the defrost setting on the microwave to thaw the chicken within minutes.
Can you re-freeze thawed chicken?
Yes, you can safely re-freeze chicken given that it was thawed properly and didn’t go above 40°F, not giving bacteria the chance to grow.
However, since this is a bit difficult to guarantee, most people prefer to not re-freeze already thawed chicken.
In addition to that, the repeated freezing and thawing process can dehydrate the chicken and affect its taste and quality.
What is the safe cooking temperature for chicken?
Since raw chicken can carry harmful bacteria that can cause you to fall sick, it is very important to cook your chicken properly.
The USDA recommends cooking whole chicken and parts of it, such as the breasts, legs, and wings, to an internal temperature of 165°F.
When baking it in the oven, you will have to set the oven between 350°F to 450°F to reach the proper internal temperature.
The best way to check the chicken’s temperature is by sticking a meat thermometer in the center or the thickest part of the chicken for a reading.
This not only makes sure that your chicken is cooked to perfection but also eliminates the risk of a potential bacteria trap.
After all, no one likes eating chicken and realizing halfway through that the center is cool and a discolored pinkish purple.