We always want to make sure we’re serving up fresh and healthy food for our families, but it’s even more important now that many of us are trying to make our groceries last as long as possible while we wait out the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. As one of the most common and crowd-pleasing ingredients, there’s a good chance you’ve looked into your fridge and wondered just how long the raw chicken you have can safely last.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you just have one or two days after purchasing to cook your refrigerated bird. That goes for the whole chicken or just pieces of it, like the breast or thigh. It might sound like way too small a window, but it’s what the FDA calls a “short but safe time limit” to avoid food poisoning.
Once the chicken has been cooked — including fried, baked, nuggets and patties, rotisserie, or smothered in sauce or gravy — it will last a bit longer in your fridge with three or four days.
Your best bet for really making sure your chicken doesn’t go bad is to stick it in the freezer. If it’s uncooked, you’ve got about a year for a whole bird and nine months for pieces. For fans of giblets, the FDA claims those will also last a couple days in a fridge and three to four months in a freezer.
You can also freeze chicken that’s already been cooked, but they won’t last quite as long. Nuggets and patties will keep for one to three months, baked or fried pieces can go for four months, and ones covered in sauce or gravy can still be good for six months after freezing them.
Whether you toss your chicken in the fridge or the freezer, you should use your best judgement about whether it’s gone past its prime. The FDA says those “sell by” dates stamped onto our food aren’t an exact science, and often they are for the store itself not the shopper. “The date is simply related to optimal quality — not safety,” they claim. “Manufacturers generally apply date labels at their own discretion and for a variety of reasons. The most common is to inform consumers and retailers of the date up to which they can expect the food to retain its desired quality and flavor.”
Instead of just going by the date its stamped with, it’s important to know what to look for to tell if your chicken has spoiled. A change in color could be totally normal, but fading or darkening meat might be a sign it’s gone bad. More obvious indicators include a distinct “off” odor and a sticky, tacky, or slimy texture when you touch it. (P.S. It’s also perfectly safe to trim off freezer burn and eat the rest of the unaffected meat.)
Now all you need is to decide on which chicken recipe to whip up next.
This story originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.