How Long Does Chicken Last in the Fridge?
Don't let food safety fly the coop. Here's how long raw and cooked chicken lasts in the fridge—and how to make it last longer.
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Is this still good? It’s the eternal question anytime you open the fridge and pull out something you vowed to make for dinner several nights ago. (Side note: Why is GrubHub so easy?) Maybe you thawed some chicken the day before—or a couple of days before—and it’s still sitting on the fridge shelf, uncooked. Or perhaps you even spent your Sunday meal-prepping and cooking a big batch of chicken, but now it’s the end of the week and what’s left is looking a little iffy. How long does food last in the fridge, and more specifically, how long does chicken last in the fridge?
It’s an important question, because eating spoiled chicken can be just as harmful as eating expired eggs, spoiled milk or leftovers that have grown something fuzzy. For an accurate answer, you’ll need to consider sell-by dates, fridge organization and meat storage guidelines, of course, but that’s not all, according to experts. Keep reading to find out how long raw and cooked chicken stays good.
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How long does raw chicken last in the fridge?
Raw chicken that you buy from the meat counter can last in your fridge for up to two days, according to Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety extension advocate at Penn State. This may be different from the sell-by date you see on the package. The sell-by date indicates the last date a store is allowed to have the chicken on store shelves, and while you should take it into consideration, how your food looks and smells is even more important.
Keep in mind that at the grocery store, workers carefully monitor the temperatures of freezers and refrigerators to ensure bacteria isn’t forming on the chicken. At the meat counter, workers cut only what is likely to sell for that day, then closely monitor the temperature of the case.
Either way, Bucknavage sticks by the two-days-in-the-fridge rule. Of course, if you buy raw chicken that’s sealed—say, from Purdue or Bell & Evans—you have a bit more flexibility. The sell-by dates on those packages will be more accurate, but again, you should always check the state of the chicken when you’re ready to use it. And once the package is open and the chicken is exposed to air, follow the two-day rule for whatever you don’t use.
How you store raw chicken in the fridge also affects how long it will last. First, says Bucknavage, make sure the fridge is the correct temperature: at or below 40 degrees. The best place to store chicken is in the coldest part of the fridge, which is typically the bottom shelf. Also make sure to store raw chicken in the best food storage containers—aka airtight containers—so it isn’t exposed to air or moisture, which can cause harmful bacteria to form. This will also ensure that bacteria from the chicken doesn’t come into contact with other food in the fridge.
How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?
If you bought a rotisserie chicken from the store, like one of Costco’s famous $4.99 rotisserie chickens, the question “How long does chicken last in the fridge?” has a slightly different answer. So, how long does cooked chicken last in the fridge? Rotisserie chicken can last in the fridge for three to four days, according to the USDA. The same applies if you cooked the chicken yourself and regardless of whether you roasted, broiled, baked or fried it. In other words: Don’t expect any type of chicken you cooked on Sunday to be OK by Thursday.
Bucknavage emphasizes that it’s important to store cooked chicken properly, just like with raw chicken. Again, this means storing it in an airtight container so it isn’t exposed to air or moisture. Cooked chicken that isn’t stored properly or is spoiled can start growing bacteria that can lead to food poisoning. Two types of bacteria that can form on spoiled cooked chicken are pseudomonas putida and aeromonas hydrophila. While they’re different than what you’d find on raw chicken (B. thermosphacta, P. fluorescens and S. putrefaciens), they make you equally sick.
How long will chicken last in the freezer?
The freezer is the perfect place to store both raw and cooked chicken you aren’t going to eat right away. “Frozen raw chicken can last in the freezer for months,” Bucknavage says. Just how many months, exactly? According to the USDA, whole raw chicken can last up to a year, chicken parts for nine months, and giblets and ground chicken for three to four months. As for cooked chicken? It will stay good in the freezer for four months. According to the CDC, it is safe to refreeze chicken that you thawed out in the fridge, so if you thought you were going to eat it but then ended up not cooking it for whatever reason, it’s safe to put it back in the freezer to thaw out another day. However, it may not taste quite as good.
Bucknavage says that all this comes with a major caveat: Your chicken must be stored properly, and your freezer must be kept cold enough (0 degrees). Both raw chicken and cooked chicken should be stored in airtight glass or plastic containers, and while you can wrap your chicken before putting it in a container, Bucknavage says there is no need to do so. If you don’t store your chicken properly, it’s at risk for developing freezer burn, which can dehydrate it and reduce its quality.
How to tell if chicken has gone bad
While all these guidelines are helpful for knowing if your chicken is safe to eat, nothing can replace your senses. Here are the telltale signs your chicken has spoiled, according to Bucknavage:
- It has a foul smell.
- It’s slimy.
- The color has changed from pinkish to gray, yellow or green.
To recap: When stored properly in the freezer, chicken can last a really long time, whether it’s raw or cooked. The fridge, on the other hand, gives it a much shorter shelf life, so use it quickly!
Now that you know what to do with your chicken, learn how long can you keep fish in the fridge and which foods you should never eat past their expiration dates.
- Martin Bucknavage, senior food safety extension advocate at Penn State
- FSIS: “Chicken from Farm to Table”
- The Journal of Hygiene: “A study of bacteria contaminating refrigerated cooked chicken; their spoilage potential and possible origin”
- USDA: “How long can you freeze chicken?”
- FSIS: “Freezing and Food Safety”