4 Easy Ways to Tell if Your Chicken Has Gone Bad

Before serving up your favorite poultry dish tonight, be sure you're aware of the signs that indicate your chicken has gone bad.

Nicolle Monico
Updated 8 April 2022
4 Easy Ways to Tell if Your Chicken Has Gone Bad
Sections on this page
  1. Check the Expiration Date
  2. Do a Smell Test
  3. Feel Its Texture
  4. Look at Its Appearance 
  5. Chicken Storage Timelines
  6. How to Safely Thaw Chicken
  7. What Happens If You Eat Bad Chicken?

With certain foods, it can be easy to tell when they’ve gone bad, but for others, it can take a little bit more work to know if it’s spoiled. Chicken is one such culprit, making it hard to know whether it should be thrown out or not. Read more to learn how to tell if chicken is bad using these four techniques.

Check the Expiration Date

It may seem obvious, but your first step should be to look at the “best if used by” and expiration dates on the packaging of your chicken. The former is the manufacturer’s date used to signify when you should eat your food by to get the best quality but it may be slightly different from its expiration date.

Whether the dates are the same or different, always go by the chicken's expiration date. You can get away with cooking it a day after it has expired, but its quality may not be as great.

Do a Smell Test

Smell is one of the biggest giveaways of spoiled food. Generally, chicken has no smell or a very mild one when fresh, so if your chicken has a foul or rotten smell to it, then it has likely gone bad.

However, this shouldn’t be your only barometer in determining whether your poultry has gone bad. Some people may lack a strong sense of smell or may not notice a change in scent.  

Feel Its Texture

A great way to tell if chicken is bad by feeling its texture. Fresh raw chicken has a soft, glossy and somewhat slippery texture to it.

Did You Know?

Your raw chicken may have gone bad if it has a sticky, slimy, or tacky feel to it that makes your hands feel greasy afterwards.

On the other hand, if your chicken has been cooked and sitting in the fridge for a few days, you can check that it has not undergone any texture changes. Some changes you may notice on spoiled chicken is a slimy residue, increased softness, or a sticky layer

Look at Its Appearance 

Raw chicken will have a pinkish, fleshy hue that signifies it is fresh and okay to be eaten. If it begins to show signs of graying or is losing its pinkish coloring, it’s likely bad.

If there are layers of fat on the chicken, they should be white in color. Once they begin to turn yellow, it’s a sign that it is either ready to be thrown out or quickly approaching its expiration date.

When cooking chicken that you’re unsure about, if it beings to look dull and not as white, it may also be a sign that you shouldn’t eat it. 

Chicken Storage Timelines

Properly storing your chicken can elongate its shelf life and protect you from falling ill from bad or spoiled chicken. According to the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Type of Chicken Safe Length
Raw chicken 1-2 days in the fridge
Raw chicken Up to 9 months in the freezer
Cooked chicken 3-4 days in the fridge
Cooked chicken 3-4 months in the freezer

When thawing raw chicken, once it is fully defrosted, you will have 1 to 2 days to eat it.

Once cooked, make sure you return the chicken to the fridge. Never leave it out for more than two hours—bacteria can begin to breed quickly on chicken that is left out.

How to Safely Thaw Chicken

When you’re ready to use your frozen chicken (raw or cooked), avoid leaving it in the sink or on the counter to thaw quicker. This can cause bacterial growth and increases your chances of getting sick after eating it. Instead, place it in the fridge immediately and let it defrost slowly. This may take a full day, so plan accordingly.

What Happens If You Eat Bad Chicken?

If you accidentally eat chicken that has gone bad, don’t worry, it’s not a fatal mistake. You may get salmonella or E. coli poisoning which can be very uncomfortable to experience, but are generally not life threatening on their own.

Both E. coli and salmonella bacteria can cause food poisoning resulting in diarrhea or vomiting, but symptoms typically resolve themselves within a few days to a week.

Symptoms of Salmonella

Salmonella symptoms can occur within 6 hours of being exposed to the bacteria but may appear as long as 6 days before showing signs of an infection. Symptoms may last 4-7 days and may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Symptoms of E. Coli

Once you’ve been exposed to E. coli, symptoms may occur within 2 to 5 days and may last 5 to 10 days. People can typically recover on their own without the need for medical attention.

Symptoms of E. coli include:

  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe abdominal cramps
  • Fever

To avoid dehydration, be sure to drink plenty of water and supplement your intake with electrolyte drinks. If your symptoms continue for longer or are severe, seek medical attention immediately.


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