Have you ever wondered how long you can keep chicken for after its sell-by date has passed? This date doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to throw your chicken away, so in the interests of reducing food waste and saving money, let’s look at how long it should remain safe to eat for.
How long is chicken good for after sell-by date? Chicken will usually last for up to one or two days after its sell-by date according to the FDA. Using chicken that is one or two days after its sell-by date is a conservative estimate, and you may be able to keep chicken for longer, but it’s important to be careful. If there’s a use-by date on the packaging, make sure you adhere to this.
What Does the Sell-By Date Mean?
The sell-by date on chicken, like all other sell-by dates, means the date at which the retailer must stop displaying the meat for sale. Retailers are not permitted to put chicken on the shelves after this date and could face heavy fines for doing so.
The sell-by date is determined by the likely date that the chicken will go bad. The idea is to stop the chicken from going bad before you have a chance to consume it – it’s to give the purchaser a reasonable amount of time to safely use the chicken.
Usually, therefore, food will outlast its sell-by date because a margin has been built into this date. You should still be aiming to use it up quickly, however, because it will not last very long, and the sell-by date will not be far off the expiry date.
Do You Need to Keep Chicken in the Fridge After It Has Reached Its Sell-By Date?
Yes, chicken needs to always be kept in the fridge, whether it has reached its sell-by date or not. You should never leave chicken at room temperature for more than two hours, or an hour if the room is over 90 degrees F. Bacteria will quickly spread through the meat, regardless of how fresh it is.
Try to put chicken in the fridge as soon as you get it home. You should also aim to pick it up toward the end of your trip to the grocery store and avoid running other errands afterward. This will minimize the amount of time that the chicken spends in a warm environment and should help it to keep better.
If you leave chicken at room temperature, it will go bad within hours, and will not even last until the sell-by date. Proper storage is crucial if you want to make the chicken last well and ensure it remains safe to eat. This is true for both raw chicken and cooked chicken; it must be kept in the fridge or the freezer.
Can You Freeze Chicken that has Reached Its Sell-By Date?
You can, but it is best to do so promptly. If chicken is notably past the sell-by date, it will no longer be safe to freeze. Freezing works by halting the growth of bacteria, and it can stop it almost indefinitely, but it does not reverse bacterial growth.
The closer the chicken is to its expiry point, the less well it will keep when freezing and being thawed. If you put the chicken in the freezer when it is very close to expiring, the time taken to freeze and thaw the meat may make it unsafe to eat.
Ideally, you should put chicken in the freezer either before or on its sell-by date. This means you will have more leeway when it comes to thawing it. Make sure that you thaw chicken in the fridge or in cold water, and never leave it at room temperature, or it is likely to go bad before it has properly defrosted.
How Can You Tell If Chicken Has Gone Bad If You Can’t Use the Sell-By Date?
You shouldn’t be using the sell-by date to determine chicken freshness, but if your chicken doesn’t have a use-by date, you should inspect its texture, appearance, and smell. As bacteria grow in the meat, they will start to alter its makeup, and this will affect how it feels, looks, and smells.
Chicken that has gone bad will often develop a slimy texture, so gently touch the skin of the chicken and see how it feels. It should be firm and dry, not wet or sticky.
Smell the chicken, too. Chicken that is fresh should also have minimal scent, whereas old chicken may have a sour, unpleasant aroma. You may have to warm the chicken up to room temperature before you can tell whether it smells moldy or not.
The appearance of the chicken is a further indicator. It should be pink, with no dark spots, or areas that are green, blue, or white. Flecks of mold on the surface clearly indicate that the chicken has gone bad and it should not be eaten.
How Accurate Are Sell-By Dates?
Sell-by dates are generally recognized to be a “safe guess”, rather than a scientific measure. They are intended to be a date at which the meat is still okay to eat and will still be okay to eat for at least a day or two more.
Although it’s worth looking at a sell-by date, you can also use your own judgment about chicken. Choosing a sell-by date that is further in the future should mean that the meat will last longer, but otherwise, sell-by dates are more important to the manufacturer than the consumer.
Chicken should be used up within one or two days of the sell-by date. Do not keep chicken for much longer, as this date indicates it is close to expiry, and is a sign it should be used up.
If you can’t use the chicken in time, make sure you freeze it as soon as you can after purchase, rather than waiting until it has almost gone bad. The sooner you freeze it, the fresher it will be when you thaw it.