How To Know If Chicken Has Gone Bad

Unless you're vegan or vegetarian, many of us eat chicken on a regular basis. It's such a versatile meat and a staple in many households. After all, when you don't know what to make for dinner, there is always something you can do with chicken.

According to Eat This, Not That, the price of chicken has increased by more than 17% in 2022. Also, chicken has had the biggest increase in price compared to other meats. For that reason alone, you don't want to waste it. Although, it is easy to let it stay in the fridge too long, forgetting it's there until it's too late.

Yet finances aren't the only area of concern when it comes to chicken. The CDC reports that contaminated poultry is responsible for one million people getting sick each year. Chicken, even when fresh, carries salmonella and other bacteria that can be deadly when not thoroughly cooked.

If you eat spoiled chicken you can develop nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache. In worst-case scenarios, eating contaminated chicken can cause death. Yet it's not always crystal clear when chicken has gone from fresh to spoiled. However, there are some ways you can determine whether or not your chicken is safe to eat. 

The smell of chicken can reveal a lot

If you've ever opened a packet of raw chicken and immediately noticed a foul stench, you've likely encountered chicken gone bad. It has a distinct foul odor that not only gets stuck in your nose but becomes one you'll not soon forget. The Spruce Eats points out how the odor of spoiled chicken is particularly pungent and usually smells like ammonia or has a sulfur smell, similar to rotten eggs.

Though odor is a telltale sign that chicken is bad, not everyone has the same sense of smell, which can put you at risk of food poisoning (via Cleveland Clinic). For those who have olfactory issues, whether chronic or even just a stuffy nose that impairs your sense of smell, it's best to ask someone else if the chicken smells ok. However, if you have any doubts, there are other ways to figure out if your chicken is safe to eat.

You can recognize spoiled chicken from how it looks

Chicken should basically look fresh to the naked eye. If raw, it should be light pink and the fat on it optimally should appear white (via Healthline). When chicken spoils, it turns gray and the fat turns yellow. It's normal for a raw chicken to fade in color a bit since oxygen will cause the pink color to lessen. If chicken is cooked, it should be white and dark pieces should appear dark brown. There should be no signs of pink which can signal that it's undercooked.

In addition, there should be no slimy feel to raw or cooked chicken after it's washed. "Raw chicken can have a somewhat slimy feel to it, but if it has a slimy feel after it is rinsed off and patted dried, it's no longer good," registered dietician nutritionist, Heather Danielson, told Banner Health. If you touch raw chicken and it feels sticky, it's likely gone bad and you should discard it promptly. The same goes for cooked chicken, as any signs of slime or stickiness could mean bacteria has taken hold of it.

How to keep chicken fresh and safe to eat

When buying chicken, pay attention to expiration dates (via Eating Well). The packaged date is how poultry companies keep tabs on salmonella outbreaks, while the "use by" date will tell you how long the chicken will stay fresh.

This next bit of information may change the way you shop and cook. According to the Food & Drug Administration, raw chicken (and turkey) should only stay in your refrigerator for 1 to 2 days maximum. After that, bacteria start to grow to unhealthy levels.

It also doesn't matter whether the poultry is cut up in the form of cutlets, drumsticks, or wings, or if you have a whole bird. The recommendation remains the same. Toss it out after two days tops or put it in the freezer. Raw chicken will stay good in the freezer for nine months when cut into pieces and for one year if it's a whole chicken.