How To Tell If Chicken Is Bad?

When it comes to cooking with chicken, ensuring its freshness is of utmost importance.

No one wants to take a bite of spoiled poultry! 

So, how can you determine if your chicken has gone bad?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the key signs and tips on how to tell if chicken is bad

With a little know-how, you’ll be equipped to make informed decisions about the quality and safety of your chicken, ensuring that your meals are always delicious and worry-free.

Let’s jump right in and become chicken-savvy detectives!

How To Tell If Chicken Is Bad?

After discovering the time for chicken to stay in the fridge and in the freezer, it’s now time to explore when your chicken is bad for your health.

It’s not too hard to realize indeed. You can just rely on factors like color, smell, texture, etc to identify. 

Let’s dig deeply into some ways that help you to indicate whether your chicken has been bad or not. 

1. Color

When assessing the color of chicken, both the raw and cooked states offer vital clues about its freshness.

Fresh raw chicken should have a light pink hue, and the fat should appear white rather than yellow or gray.

If you notice any shades of gray, green, or an overall dulling of the flesh’s color, it’s a sign that the chicken may have gone bad.

In contrast, properly cooked chicken will display a uniform white or light tan color throughout.

If there are any unusual colorings, such as pink on the bone, it could indicate that the chicken is not completely cooked.

However, a change in color to a darker shade after cooking, such as gray or green, is a clear indicator that the chicken should not be consumed.

Always trust these visual cues and other factors to determine the edibility of your poultry.

2. Smell

The sense of smell is an effective tool for determining the quality of your chicken.

Fresh chicken should have a very subtle scent if any at all.

A foul odor clearly indicates that the chicken has spoiled and should not be eaten.

Spoilage bacteria produce an ammonia-like smell that becomes stronger with time.

Even after cooking, bad chicken will retain an unpleasant smell.

Trust your nose – if the chicken smells off, it’s better to err on the side of caution and dispose of it.

Not only does this safeguard your health, but it also ensures you are cooking with ingredients that will produce the best-tasting meals.

Remember, if in doubt, it’s always the safest choice to throw it out.

3. Texture

When fresh, raw chicken should feel slightly moist but not slippery.

If the chicken feels sticky, tacky, or slimy, it is likely spoiled and presents a food safety risk.

Over time, spoilage bacteria can cause changes in the texture, making the raw chicken unappetizing and unsafe to consume.

For cooked chicken, the texture should be firm and springy to the touch.

If the cooked meat feels unusually mushy or rubbery, this is another sign that it is no longer suitable for eating.

Always handle chicken with clean hands and utilize proper food safety practices when checking the texture to avoid cross-contamination.

4. Expiration Date

The expiration date on your package of chicken is a crucial guideline, providing a conservative estimate of how long the chicken should remain fresh.

While a “sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale, the “use-by” or “best before” date is when the manufacturer suggests that the product should be consumed for peak quality.

If today’s date exceeds the expiration date, the chicken might have started to spoil.

However, if the chicken has been properly refrigerated and is still within a day or two of the expiration date, inspect it using the color, smell, and texture tests previously described.

It’s important to note that these dates are not fail-safe and should be combined with the other sensory methods to ensure your chicken is safe for consumption.

How Long Can Chicken Last In The Fridge?

Before diving into our main attraction, knowing the exact amount of time that chicken can last in the fridge can help you plan out your meals and avoid wasting food.

Cooked chicken is kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, raw chicken only lasts 2 days, and packaged one can be kept cool in its first packaging in the fridge’s coldest spot for 48 hours after buying it.

To determine whether chicken is spoiled, you should look at the expiration date and look out for spoilage indicators such as alterations in smell, texture, and color.

How Long Can Chicken Be Frozen?

If chicken is undercooked, you can freeze it for up to 4 months, but if it’s cooked, it can stay frozen for 3 to 4 months (make sure cooked chicken wasn’t left out at room temp for more than 2 hours before freezing).

Ensuring proper storage is key to maintaining the quality and safety of chicken.

For optimal freshness and to prevent freezer burn, wrap the chicken in foil, or plastic wrap, or place it in a freezer bag before freezing.

Can You Still Cook Chicken If It Has a Slight Smell?

After knowing the answer to the question: “How to tell if chicken is bad?”, you might be wondering if there is any way to cook your chicken if it shows slight signs of spoilage.

The answer is absolutely NO.

if the chicken has a slight smell, it is not advisable to cook it as this is a warning sign of spoilage.

Eating spoiled chicken can lead to foodborne illness, as it may be contaminated with bacteria harmful to human health.

Although cooking thoroughly can eliminate many bacteria, some toxins produced by bacteria are heat-resistant and can still cause sickness.

Instead of questioning the edibility, it’s best to discard chicken with any off-putting scent to ensure food safety.

Always trust your instincts and err on the side of caution.

Remember, good quality chicken should have little to no smell, and if you detect an odor, it’s a signal from your senses that the chicken may not be safe to consume.

Prioritizing safety and quality will not only keep you healthy but also ensure that your meals are delicious and of the highest standard.

How To Make Your Chicken Stay Fresh?

Besides all the signs you need to know to identify whether your chicken is bad or not, you also need to know some ways to keep chicken fresh as long as possible.

It is extremely important because it directly affects your family’s meals and taste.

Some of the most common and useful ways are:

1. Cool It Down Fast

Cooling down your chicken quickly after purchase or use is vital to maintaining freshness.

Place the chicken in the refrigerator immediately upon returning home or after cooking.

If possible, set your fridge to a temperature below 40°F, as this slows bacterial growth.

For cooked chicken, allow it to cool to room temperature for no longer than two hours before refrigerating.

If you’re dealing with a large quantity of cooked chicken, dividing it into smaller portions can help it cool more efficiently.

Remember to seal the chicken in leak-proof containers or plastic wrap to avoid cross-contamination with other foods.

2. Transport Safely

Ensuring chicken stays fresh starts from the moment you purchase it.

Transport raw chicken in a cooler or insulated bag, particularly if your journey home takes some time. Separate it from other groceries to prevent cross-contamination.

Once home, unpack it immediately, placing it either in the refrigerator or freezer depending on when you plan to use it.

Double packaging can provide additional protection against leakage and exposure to air, which can hasten spoilage.

Proper transportation and immediate storage are crucial steps in extending the freshness and safety of your chicken.

3. Store Correctly In The Refrigerator

Correct refrigeration is key to keeping your chicken fresh.

Place chicken in the coldest part of your fridge, often toward the back, away from the door where temperature fluctuations are common.

Raw chicken should ideally be stored at the bottom shelf to prevent any juices from contaminating other foods.

Utilize a tray beneath the packaged chicken to catch any drip that might escape, which also aids in maintaining hygiene.

Keep in mind to use or freeze the chicken within the recommended 1-to-2-day timeframe.

Such vigilant storage habits not only ensure food safety but also preserve the chicken’s integrity and taste.

4. Keep The Package Closed

To maximize the shelf life of your chicken, keep it sealed in its original packaging until ready to use.

Opening the package introduces air, which can harbor bacteria and accelerate spoilage.

If the original package has been opened, rewrap the chicken tightly with plastic wrap or place it in an airtight container.

This protective barrier minimizes exposure to air, contains any leaking juices that could cross-contaminate other foods, and helps preserve the chicken’s freshness, making it a simple yet crucial step in food safety management.

5. Don’t Leave It On The Counter For Too Long

Leaving chicken out at room temperature for an extended period can lead to bacterial growth, making it unsafe to eat.

Always limit the time raw or cooked chicken spends on the counter to under two hours.

If the environment is warm or above 90°F, reduce this time to one hour.

Transfer the chicken into the refrigerator or freezer promptly after purchase or use to maintain quality and food safety.

Keeping these time frames in mind is essential for preventing foodborne illnesses and ensuring you enjoy your chicken fresh and free from harmful bacteria.

Symptoms Of Eating Spoiled Chicken

If you accidentally eat spoiled chicken, how can you recognize the symptoms?

This can be classified as a case of food poisoning. Symptoms may include:

1. Nausea: This is often the first symptom to appear. It is a sensation of discomfort in the stomach and the urge to vomit.

2. Vomiting: The body’s response to remove ingested toxins from spoiled chicken.

3. Diarrhea: Frequent, loose stools that may occur as your body attempts to rid itself of harmful organisms.

4. Fever: An increase in body temperature indicates that your immune system is fighting an infection.

5. Abdominal Pain: Cramps or tenderness in the stomach area can signal food poisoning.

6. Headaches: These can accompany the general feeling of unwellness that comes with foodborne illness.

7. Weakness and fatigue: Feeling unusually tired or weak as your body expends energy to fight off infection.

Please be aware that severe cases of food poisoning can lead to more critical conditions and require medical attention.

If you suspect you’ve consumed spoiled chicken and are experiencing these symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare provider.


In short, knowing “how to tell if chicken is bad?” and understanding the signs of spoilage can save you from the discomfort of foodborne illness.

Incorporate the guidelines discussed for storing, handling, and cooking chicken to extend its freshness and ensure its safety.

Being proactive about these measures can make a significant difference in your eating experiences and overall health.

Always trust your senses – if the chicken looks or smells off, it’s better to err on the side of caution and dispose of it properly.

Stay informed, stay safe, and enjoy the delicious benefits of fresh, properly prepared chicken.

Chef Chip Roman is one of the most exciting and talented chefs in Philadelphia. He has his own catering business, Charles Roman Catering, as well as Roman Restaurant Group which includes Blackfish, Mica, and Ela. He graduated from Drexel University in 2002 with a degree in business and culinary arts. Chip Roman is a classically trained chef who has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens and chefs in Philadelphia, including Le Bec Fin’s George Perrier and Marc Vetri’s Vetri.

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