Chicken is a delicious protein that many people enjoy as a healthy part of their diet, but like any type of poultry or meat, chicken is perishable.
When chicken goes bad, the smell, appearance, and taste will change. If you think your chicken may have gone off, don't eat it! Here are a few ways to tell if your chicken has gone bad. And don't forget, when in doubt, throw it out – you don't want to run the risk of exposing either your family or yourself to foodborne illness.
The color and appearance of spoiled chicken will depend on whether it is raw or cooked. Here's what to look for depending on what type of chicken you have.
When raw chicken is fresh and safe to cook, it should be light pink with white pieces of fat. There may be some variations in the color of the flesh – it might be slightly darker in some areas or a little paler. These color variations may mean the chicken isn't perfectly fresh, but it doesn't mean the chicken is spoiled either.
If you see that the chicken is grey or green and the fat is yellow, your chicken has begun to spoil and you should throw it away. The same is true if you see any obvious signs of mold. If any part of your chicken is moldy, you'll need to throw the entire chicken out.
Unspoiled properly cooked chicken should be completely white without any areas of pink. If you see pink, that means the chicken is undercooked. Once cooked, don't leave the chicken out for more than an hour. Leaving it out longer than one hour can increase the risk of bacteria growth and cause food poisoning. Cooked chicken has an average shelf life of 3 days when refrigerated and up to 4 months when frozen. When reheating cooked chicken, make sure to heat it to 165°F. If you see mold, throw the chicken away.
Whether raw or cooked, you'll know your chicken has gone bad if it gives off a foul odor which some people say is similar to rotten eggs. Raw chicken has an unnoticeable odor. Never rely on smell alone to determine if your chicken is off. Always check for other signs.
Texture is an easy way to tell if your chicken has gone off. If you take out a raw chicken and notice that it feels sticky or slimy, it means the chicken has spoiled. Fresh raw chicken should be soft to touch. Cooked chicken will be firmer and drier compared to raw chicken. If it has a sticky, slimy texture or becomes very soft, you should play it safe and throw it out.
The expiration date is a good way to know if your chicken is safe to eat. If the chicken is outside its “best before date” or “use by” date, it may have begun to spoil. If you notice the expiration date is coming up, freeze the chicken if you don't plan on eating it right away. Is the chicken still inside its expiration date but smells, looks, or feels off? Don't risk it – just throw it away.
As a general rule, make sure to store your chicken in the fridge or freezer unless you're preparing to cook it. Frozen food should be kept below 0°F while refrigerated food should be kept below 40°F.