Chicken is a nutritious food that is a staple in many households’ diets.
Sometimes it’s obvious when chicken isn’t safe to eat, but that’s not always the case, and it takes a little more detective work to figure it out.
Eating spoiled chicken, whether raw or cooked, can make you very sick.
Always check for changes in the color, smell, and texture of raw chicken to determine if it has gone bad.
This article will teach you how to tell if your chicken has gone bad.
Table of Contents
1. Check the color
Raw chicken is pink and fleshy when it is fresh.
The color fades to gray as it deteriorates. If the color of the chicken fades, use it as soon as possible before it spoils.
It’s too late when it looks more gray than pink. Raw chicken’s colors can range from gray to yellow spots that are not skin.
If you cook bad chicken, it will continue to look dull and will not become as white. However, minor color changes in the chicken’s flesh are normal.
For example, you may notice a slight darkening or fading of the pink flesh, which is a normal result of oxymyoglobin, a red protein and pigment, converting to metmyoglobin after exposure to oxygen (1).
Mild color changes are normal as long as the food is stored in the refrigerator or freezer. If there are any visible signs of spoilage, such as mold growth, the chicken has gone bad and is not safe to eat.
Similarly, cooked chicken should be white with no pink flesh. Pink flesh shows undercooked chicken. If you’re storing leftover chicken, keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) or less for a maximum of 3 days.
Keep in mind that chicken can spoil within a few hours if left out at 140°F (60°C). This is a temperature range in which bacteria multiply, increasing the risk of food-borne illness (2).
Throw away any chicken that shows visible signs of mold growth or color changes between the time you put it in the refrigerator and the time you intend to eat it.
If the chicken has any seasonings or dressings on it, it’s difficult to detect mold or color changes.
As a result, eat the cooked chicken within three days. Reheat the chicken to 165°F (74°C), using a food thermometer to check the internal temperature (3).
2. Smell the chicken
Raw chicken with an unpleasant smell has a strong odor. Some describe it as a “sour” odor, while others compare it to the odor of ammonia.
If the chicken has developed an unpleasant or strong smell, it is best to discard it. While cooking, chicken can smell bad; it is best to discard it if it smells unpleasant.
However, you should never rely on smell to determine whether chicken is safe to eat. Because people’s sense of smell differs, not everyone will notice a change in the smell of chicken.
So it is best to keep an eye out for any other signs of spoilage, such as texture. The texture of fresh chicken is glossy and soft. It should not be slimy, sticky, or fading.
If you get a slimy residue on your hands after touching raw chicken, it’s a sign that it’s gone bad. Similarly, chicken that has been cooked is firmer and drier than raw chicken.
If you see changes in texture, such as increased softness, sliminess, stickiness, or residue, you should not eat it and discard it.
3. Check the expiration date
Before purchasing chicken, always check the expiration date. A chicken package may bear two dates, such as a pack date and a best before date.
The first refers to the date the chicken was packaged and is intended for manufacturers and retailers to use rather than consumers. Instead, look at the “best before” (expiration) date.
This is the date by which the manufacturer recommends you consume the food before it goes bad.
If you plan to eat chicken within 1–2 days, select a package that is nearing its expiration date, which is usually on sale.
However, chicken can be stored in the freezer for at least nine months if it is tightly sealed. To keep track of the purchase date, write it on the package before putting the chicken in the freezer.
Fresh, uncooked chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for 1–2 days. If you’ve already cooked the chicken, eat it within 3–4 days and keep it in the refrigerator.
Risks of eating spoiled chicken
Chicken has a high risk of causing food poisoning because of bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and others (2).
These bacteria are normally eliminated when fresh chicken is thoroughly cooked. You should, however, avoid cooking and eating spoiled chicken.
Although re-heating or cooking will kill surface bacteria, it will not remove some toxins produced by bacteria, which can cause food poisoning if consumed (4).
Food poisoning can cause unpleasant and sometimes dangerous symptoms such as a high fever (over 101.5°F or 38.6°C), chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, and dehydration. Severe food poisoning can sometimes cause hospitalization and even death (5, 6).
If you suspect your chicken has gone bad, don’t eat it. It’s always best to discard chicken that appears to be spoiled.
Knowing how to spot bad chicken will help keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness.
Fresh raw chicken is typically a light pink color with white fat pieces and little to no odor.
If your chicken is slimy, has a foul smell, or has turned a yellow, green, or grey color, this is a sign that it has gone bad.
Discard any chicken that has passed its expiration date, has been in the refrigerator for over two days, raw or cooked, or has been in the temperature danger zone for several hours.