Ever throw a package of frozen chicken in the fridge to defrost and then forget about it for a few days? Then find yourself wracking your brain trying to figure out whether it’s still safe to cook? It’s a tough conundrum.
On the one hand, the consequences of chicken-borne food poisoning are too terrible to contemplate — you may not die, but you’ll probably spend a few days wishing that you would. On the other, you probably spent at least half a paycheck at Whole Foods on those organic, free-range chicken legs. So what should you do? How can you really tell if your chicken’s gone bad?
Luckily, there are a few ways to tell whether that chicken is still good or not. The first thing you should do is go back in time and try to figure out when you put your chicken in the refrigerator to thaw. The U.S. government advises that two days is the maximum amount of time that raw chicken should spend chillin’ in the fridge. If the chicken was frozen when it went in, however, the clock doesn’t start ticking until it has thawed out.
For what it’s worth, according to StillTasty, 1 pound of cut-up frozen chicken parts may take up to 24 hours to thaw, as will a whole bird of up to 5 pounds. Two pounds of chicken parts or a whole 10-pound chicken may take up to two days to fully thaw.
If your memory isn’t all that, however, and you’re still not sure if your chicken is within the safety window, just open the package and take a look. Is the flesh still in the pink? Chicken starts to turn a greyish shade as it spoils, so if you see even one single shade of grey, chuck that chicken as fast as you can.
You can also use your sense of smell and touch to make sure your bird is A-OK. To pass the sniff test, your chicken shouldn’t have any sour, pungent, or “off” odors, and it should definitely not be giving off a whiff of ammonia. If anything about that chicken smells fishy, wrap it up again and take it straight outside to the garbage can.
And sure, it might feel kinda gross, but you can also go ahead and touch that raw chicken flesh with your bare fingers. Raw chicken will always feel a bit slippery, but if the flesh is downright sticky or if it feels like there’s some kind of thick coating on there, that chicken is very likely coated with some bad bacteria, so you should remove it from your house ASAP. And make sure you wash your hands afterwards, too.
So what about cooked chicken? Well, while cooking your chicken will delay the spoiling process by a few more days, even cooked chicken is only edible for a limited period of time. What’s more, cooked chicken must be refrigerated within an hour of coming out of the oven, otherwise it will start to breed bacteria. Once refrigerated, cooked chicken can only be kept for three days max, unless you freeze it, in which case it should last up to four months — or six months if used in a soup, stew, or casserole.
If you’re not quite sure whether the cooked chicken in your fridge has gone bad, it’ll likely also give you an odor indicator. As chicken tends to absorb some of the aromas of whatever else is in your fridge, the best way to check it is to take it out of the fridge, unwrap it, and then give it a good sniff. If it smells at all funky, get rid of it. If you’re still not sure, look at the color. Cooked chicken should be white or brown, so if it’s starting to look grey, green or blue, consider it finished.
But beyond all this, the first and most important rule of safe chicken consumption is this: when in doubt, throw it out. Safety first, after all, and it’s always worth going to any length to avoid a bad bout of food poisoning.
Watch the vide to find out how to tell if chicken has gone bad!