Chicken is a protein-rich food that can be a game-changer in your diet — provided it hasn’t gone bad! If your chicken has gone bad, it can put you at risk of food poisoning or worse — and no, you cannot mitigate the risk by “cooking it over high heat”.
But, how to tell if the raw chicken is bad? Thankfully, there are a number of tell-tale signs you can look out for. They’ll let you know whether your chicken will go on the dinner table or down the garbage chute.
Why Is Raw Chicken Bad For You?
Raw chicken falls under Time and Temperature Controlled (TCS) Foods. It can become highly unsafe if not handled properly. Why is that?
Because chicken, like other meat products, can easily get contaminated with several types of bacteria, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, and E.coli.
These bacteria can be transmitted through undercooked chicken as well as from contact with cutting boards, utensils, countertops, and other food items. It can make you susceptible to food poisoning and cause dehydration, diarrhea, cramping, bloody stools, fever, and vomiting.
Symptoms typically last up to a week, but they can stick around for longer depending on the type of bacteria and your overall immune health.
Signs The Raw Chicken Chilling In Your Refrigerator Has Gone Bad
Here are some easy ways you can check to see if your chicken is no longer safe for consumption.
1. Check for Changes in Color
This is probably the best way to tell if your raw chicken has gone bad. Fresh raw chicken has a light pink, almost peachy-hued flesh — with the fat parts in white.
If the color starts to look a touch duller, use it immediately. However, if your raw chicken is starting to look gray and the fatty parts have turned yellow or have bright yellow-colored spots, the chicken is no longer safe for consumption.
2. Check for Changes in Smell
Raw chicken has a very mild smell and is almost odor-free. So, if you notice any funky smell when you unwrap the chicken, know that it has gone bad and needs to be chucked out.
If you can’t pinpoint the odor difference, pay attention to diluted smells. Anything sour, pungent, and even slightly sweet smelling is a no-no — just like the hydrogen sulfide-like smell of rotten eggs that come from chicken when it’s gone bad.
3. Check for Changes in Texture
If you can’t see spot changes in appearance and smell but are still on the fence about whether or not it’s safe for consumption, feel the meat with your fingers. Fresh raw chicken has a glossy, moist texture and a bit of a slick feel to it.
But, if it appears slimy to the touch, it has gone bad. If you still can’t tell whether the chicken has expired, rinse the meat. If it still feels kind of sticky and slimy after washing and patting it dry, it is spoiled.
4. Check the Date
Check the date printed on the package of your chicken. Keep in mind that the date stamped on the package could be labeled as “sell by” or “expiration date.”
If it’s the sell-by date, you can ideally use the chicken for 3-5 days after purchase without risking extended trips to the toilet. However, if the package has the expiration date and is the same date on which you’re checking the meat, the quality of the chicken has likely deteriorated already.
How to Store Raw Chicken Properly to Prevent It from Going Bad
To ensure your chicken does not go bad quickly, freeze your fresh chicken below 40 degrees Fahrenheit as soon as you get it instead of letting it sit on the counter. It will prevent the growth of bacteria and extend the shelf life of your chicken, making it suitable for consumption for months, even up to a year.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw chicken can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days if kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s kept in the freezer immediately after purchase, it should last up to 9-12 months. Any longer than that, and you risk getting an upset stomach, or worse, food poisoning.
So, if you remember the date, do the math. And if the chicken has been in the fridge/freezer for longer than the safe duration, throw it away. If not, you can eat it safely — provided you handle and cook it right.
How to Prevent The Risk of Food Poisoning
An estimated 1 in 6 Americans — which is a whopping 48 million people — are affected by foodborne diseases every year, with 1 million cases linked to poultry. Learning how to handle your chicken properly will not only keep you safe but also minimize waste, which is definitely a plus seeing that chicken can be expensive.
Here’s what you can do:
#1. Avoid washing raw chicken as its juices can spread on the cutting board, countertop, utensils, etc., and spread to other foods in the kitchen.
#2. Store raw chicken in a disposable bag on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator — away from the veggies and the fruits — to ensure its juices don’t seep into them.
#3. Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling refrigerated or frozen raw chicken to prevent the spread of germs.
#4. Use a separate board for raw chicken and wash it thoroughly with hot soapy water before you use the board for anything else.
#5. Make sure to cook your chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to protect yourself from food poisoning. Check the temperature at the thickest part of the chicken — not on or near the bone.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
If the chicken has passed the quality test, but you still think there’s something wrong with it, err on the side of caution and discard it ASAP. Don’t even bother salvaging it as it could put you at risk of health issues that result from expired food.