Wondering if that raw chicken in your fridge is still safe to eat? Here are the storage tips you need to know to keep your raw chicken fresh in the fridge for as long as possible. Plus, learn how to spot the freshest chicken at the market and what those packaging dates mean.
raw chicken on designed background
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You followed your list and went shopping for the week with the best intentions, but your hectic schedule and unforeseen events got the better of you. When you finally peek in the fridge to prepare that chicken dinner you had planned for, you wonder if that package of raw chicken is still safe to use. Sound familiar? It's a common kitchen conundrum.

Each year an estimated 1 million Americans get sick from eating improperly stored or prepared poultry. To avoid becoming one of those cases, read on to find out how long you can keep raw chicken in the fridge before you have to toss it. Plus, learn tips for choosing and storing raw chicken.

How long does chicken last in the refrigerator?

Surprisingly or not, raw chicken, whether it's whole or cut into parts (breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings), lasts in the fridge between one to two days, according to the Cold Food Storage Chart from FoodSafety.gov, one of the federal consumer resources for food safety. (Storing raw chicken in the freezer will extend its shelf life to nine months for pieces, and to one year for the whole bird.)

What are the signs that raw chicken has gone bad?

Even when the chicken package you purchased has not yet passed its "best if used by" date (more on these dates later), it is still possible that the meat has gone bad. So, how can you tell if it has spoiled and is no longer safe to eat?

First, trust your senses. Spoiled chicken gives off a foul smell.

Take a look at the meat. Raw chicken meat that has gone bad also appears extra shiny and slimy.

The color also matters. Spoiled chicken often loses its pinkish hue and may appear gray or even green and yellow. Sometimes you may spot mold growing the flesh.

Feel the meat's texture. Chicken that has gone bad may feel stiff, especially when you apply pressure, producing an indent where the meat does not bounce back to its original shape. Some spoiled meat may also feel soft and slimy. And remember, always wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds after handling raw chicken.

What do the dates on the packaging mean?

Since raw chicken only lasts in the refrigerator for one to two days, it is inevitable to wonder what the dates listed on the packaging mean.

According to the USDA's Food and Safety Inspection Service, all raw poultry must come to market with a "pack date" and "best if used by date" visible on the packaging.

The "pack date" is used to identify and track poultry in the event of outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The "best if used by date" is listed for quality assurance purposes. In other words, the quality of raw chicken may have deteriorated when it has passed its "best if used by date."

From a food safety perspective, raw chicken in the fridge has a short shelf life and is best if used within one to two days of purchase, regardless of the "best if used by date."

How to choose and store chicken so it stays fresh

Choosing the freshest chicken starts with your trip to the grocery store. Look for raw chicken with light pink-colored flesh. Putting the package of raw chicken into a disposable bag will help keep the juices from contaminating your other groceries.

At home, keep raw chicken in its original packaging and open it only when ready to use it. And when you do open it, know that fresh chicken meat is odor-free. The meat should also feel firm with a little give, and smooth and moist to the touch.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in every 25 packages of chicken may be contaminated by Salmonella bacteria. Following proper storage procedures is key to reducing the spread of the bacteria.

Store raw chicken in the fridge at a temperature below 40°F (4°C). Place the bagged package on the bottom shelf to avoid any drippings that may leak from the packaging and contaminate other foods.

Bottom line

Whether you plan to make a crispy roast chicken or any of our Best Healthy Chicken Recipes, pay attention to the "best if used by date" on the chicken's packaging. But, more importantly, take a good look at the flesh, touch it and smell it for any signs of spoilage. When in doubt, throw it out. And remember, one to two days can fly by, so have a plan in mind for cooking your chicken.