Chicken Shelf Life: How Long Does Chicken Last?

What is the average shelf life of chicken? How long does chicken last in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer? What is the best way to store chicken to increase its  shelf life? Find out the answers to these questions and more below:

Shelf Life of Chicken

Fresh1-2 Days12 Months
Cooked5-7 Days12 Months
Canned7 Days-

Always abide by the “use by date” on the chicken. If the chicken does not have a “use by date,” use the above chart as a reference.

Purchasing Chicken

When you’re trying to decide which package of chicken to pick up at the market, i.e., the grocery store, most people look at the color of the meat.  Of course, exposure to the air, handling and packaging, store lighting, all of these factors, have a hand in what color the poultry going to be by the time it reaches the market shelf and your eyes.  Chicken varies in color by the age of the fowl, by the breed, by its diet, and even by the amount of exercise it received.  Younger, broiler-fryer chickens usually have less fat and are darker toward their bones.

Storing Chicken

According to the USDA, if you see the words fresh on the label of your chicken’s package, it indicates that the product inside has never been frozen.  If it had been previously frozen, it would have been a requirement for the label to say frozen or previously frozen.

It is recommended to purchase this item last to keep it cool as long as possible until you can reach home and refrigerate it.  Do not remove the original packaging until you are ready to cook the chicken and, of course, this should be before the recommended “use-by” date.  If you are unable to use the chicken while it’s fresh, it should be frozen.  If frozen for a period of longer than 2 months, it should be rewrapped in freezer paper or another freezer safe packaging.

How to Handle Chicken

If the market where you are shopping has plastic bags available, you should put your poultry selection(s) in them to keep meat juices from leaking onto your other purchases and contaminating them.  Any of the items you pick from the meat aisle should be cold and remain that way until you get home to put them away.  If refrigerated, try to use fresh chicken within a couple of days.  Otherwise, you can freeze it (or rewrap and freeze if storing long-term.)  You should wash your hands and clean all surface thoroughly often when handling raw meat.

To store a ready-prepared chicken such as a fully-cooked rotisserie chicken, once it has cooled off, you should cut the leftovers in pieces and place into a plastic container for refrigeration.  The leftovers should be eaten within several days.  If frozen, it is recommended to use with 4 months.

Thawing Chicken

There is no need to rinse the chicken.  It serves no purpose and can only add to the spreading of bacteria to anything it or you touch.  The actual cooking of the meat destroys any present.

Three ways to thaw chicken safely in preparation for cooking:  1) in the refrigerator, 2) in cold water, and 3) in the microwave. It’s best not to attempt to thaw by any other method.

Cooking Chicken

In regard to the three thawing methods, if your chicken has been thawed in the refrigerator and you see that you are going to be unable to use it, you can simply refreeze it as is.  If it was thawed in cold water or in the microwave, it needs to be cooked immediately especially if you plan to refreeze it.  You should not try to fully cook frozen chicken in a microwave or a slow-cooker.  It needs to be thawed first.  Cooking frozen chicken takes 50% longer on the stove or in the oven.

How to Tell if Chicken is Bad or Spoiled

There are several ways to tell if chicken is bad or spoiled:

  • Feel the chicken. Spoiled chicken will have a slimy texture.
  • Check its appearance. Spoiled chicken will have a dull,  gray / brown appearance.
  • Smell the chicken. Spoiled chicken will usually have a strong sour smell.