Storing your chicken in the freezer for a couple of months or leaving leftovers in the fridge for a few days didn't seem like such a bad idea at the time. But now you're looking at your chicken dinner from five nights ago and wondering if it's still safe to eat. Well, there are definite ways to tell if your chicken is expired and we're going to break them down for you.

Whether it's frozen or cooked, we're here to teach you how to tell if chicken is bad.

How To Tell If Frozen Chicken Is Bad

a full frozen chicken on a plate

There are several surefire ways to tell when your frozen chicken needs to go. Even if it's been wrapped neatly in the freezer for a few months, chicken isn't immune to expiring if it's stored in the freezer. Keep an eye out for these red flags and if you see any of them then it's time to pitch the batch.

The Chicken Has Changed Color

Frozen chicken has a nice pink color throughout, but if it's expired then you'll notice it start to turn a bit gray. Additionally, the fat on frozen chicken has a distinct white color as well. Both of these colors will change if the chicken is bad. Expired chicken has been known to sprout yellow patches on its fat and an overall gray undertone. If you notice these things then it's no longer safe to eat and you should chuck the package in the garbage.

The Chicken Smells Bad

Much like many other foods, smelling chicken is a great way to tell if it's past its expiration date. It won't be pleasant to sniff out any discrepancies in your poultry, but the good news is that it won't take very long to determine whether it's time for the chicken to go. Expired raw chicken has a pungent smell that's close to rotten eggs. Even if you don't know what rotten eggs smell like... you're going to know it when it happens. If your chicken has this potent smell to it, pitch it.

The Chicken Is Slimy

You may have heard that mushrooms go slimy when they're bad and while that is true, mushrooms aren't the only food to hold that trait. If you touch the chicken and realize that there's a bit of a slimy film to it, it needs to be tossed. Raw chicken that has been thawed in the fridge will have a moist texture to its surface whereas expired chicken will be slimy. You know it's time to throw out the poultry when it maintains its sliminess even after you wash it.

It's Past Its Expiration Date

This should be a no-brainer, but a lot of people like to push their chicken past its expiration date. Though plenty of people have done this with nary a peep to their stomachs, oftentimes people do get a bit of a stomachache when chicken is technically expired. So, if you want to chance it we can't stop you but we can definitely warn you to at least keep an eye out for the red flags above before going through with eating it.

Storing Frozen Chicken

packaged chicken legs

If you'd like to keep your chicken in the freezer safely these are the tips you should follow.

Keep Chicken In Airtight Packaging

If you're planning to store raw chicken in a freezer then you should keep it in an airtight container to prevent freezer burn and it reaching its expiration date at a faster rate.

Another option you have is to remove the chicken from pre-packaged containers and placing them in freezer bags. You can stick multiple drumsticks or chicken breasts in one freezer bag, but be sure that you seal them in proper freezer bags to avoid freezer burn. You can also separate the pieces with sheets of parchment paper.

You can also freeze any pre-purchased chicken that you buy from the grocery store. Though, the USDA suggests that you rewrap pre-packaged poultry to safely freeze it. The plastic packaging can make your chicken susceptible to freezer burn, which is why you should thaw it out and cook it within a month or two. If you want to keep your pre-packaged chicken in the freezer for longer than a few months then you should wrap it in freezer paper or tinfoil.

Label Your Containers

One of the best things that you can do is label the containers in your freezer. If you're wrapping pre-packaged chicken then you should write the date on the freezer paper and if you're using containers, you should leave sticky notes with the date on them. This will help you determine how long you've had the chicken stored and whether it's safe to consume.

How To Tell If Cooked Chicken Is Bad

mouldy chicken in box
Moldy leftover chicken Shutterstock / Boontoom Sae-Kor

Just like there are simple ways to tell if frozen chicken is past its prime, there are foolproof ways check if cooked chicken should be thrown away or if you're still okay to eat it. In fact, many of the tips are very similar.

Chicken left in the fridge has a greater chance of drying out, expiring faster, and soaking in the scents from other foods depending on how your leftovers were packaged.

The Chicken Has A Weird Smell

Cooked chicken gives off a smell when its past its prime. The two don't even differ from the scent they give off either. Expired cooked chicken will give off the same rotten egg funk as frozen chicken. If you've marinated your chicken it can be difficult to pinpoint the rotten scent, especially if you marinate it with a variety of potent herbs and spices. But, if you get close you'll be able to tell without a problem.

The Chicken Has Mold On It

Well, here's an obvious sign that something has gone bad. You can take a look at the outside of your chicken or you cut into it just to be sure. If you see mold anywhere then you needn't waste any time before throwing it out.

The Chicken Changes Color

Properly cooked chicken is white on the inside, but if you cut it open and discover that it has taken on a gray hue, you should toss it out. Once again, if you've marinated your chicken with a variety of ingredients then it might be difficult to distinguish the change in color. But, if you spot any gray undertones then you need to toss it out as it'll probably get you sick.

Storing Cooked Chicken

chicken dinner

Once you've made yourself a delicious chicken dinner, there are a few safe ways that you can store your leftovers in the refrigerator.

Keep Chicken In Airtight Containers

The two safest ways that you can store your leftovers in the fridge are to keep them in airtight containers or in proper freezing bags. Storing them in these packages will reduce the accumulation mold and your dinner won't dry out as fast. This packaging will also ensure that your chicken won't soak in any flavors from surrounding foods in the fridge.

Split Up The Chicken

If you're dealing with larger quantities of chicken then you should divvy up a larger dinner into smaller portions. This will allow you to cool the dinner faster and it'll also help you break up your leftovers for multiple servings over the next couple of days.

Label Your Packaging

Just like with freezing chicken, you want to make sure that you add dates to your packaging. Given that cooked chicken is only good for four to five days, it's much easier to label your leftovers and go from there as opposed to having to shove your face up to chicken that smells like rotten eggs.

chicken dinner on green plate

Shelf Life Of Frozen And Cooked Chicken

According to, you can store raw chicken (a full chicken or pieces) in the fridge for up to two days before consumption. A whole chicken will last in the freezer for up to a year whereas chicken pieces will last in the freezer for about nine months.

They added that leftover chicken can last about four days maximum in the fridge, but they can last for about six months max in the freezer if packaged properly.

That about does it. If you follow these guidelines you'll be sure to keep your chicken fresher for longer in your refrigerator and freezer.

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