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How to tell if chicken is bad

Signs and what to look for

Chicken is a widely favored and wholesome option for many households. This article guides you on spotting if the chicken is no longer fresh.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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How to tell if chicken is bad: Signs and what to look for
Last updated on February 21, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on September 26, 2023.

Chicken’s freshness can be determined through its appearance, smell, and texture. To avoid getting sick, it’s crucial to store chicken properly.

How to tell if chicken is bad: Signs and what to look for

Many people enjoy chicken because it’s nutritious and fits well into many meals.

Yet, like other meats, chicken can go off. This can change how it tastes and feels and sometimes even make you sick.

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So, it’s essential to recognize when chicken isn’t fresh anymore. The good news is there are clear indicators to help you decide if the chicken you’re about to eat is still good.

In this article, you’ll discover how to spot if chicken has turned.

In this article

Check the appearance and color

The color and look of chicken can give clues about its condition, whether it’s raw or cooked.

Raw chicken

Before cooking chicken, always check how it looks for any bad signs.

Healthy raw chicken should be a soft pink with white fatty bits. But if the meat looks gray or greenish, or if the fat turns yellow, it’s likely not good anymore and should be thrown away.

However, slight changes in the chicken’s color can occur.

For instance, the pink might darken or fade a bit. This change happens when the red protein in chicken, oxymyoglobin, turns into metmyoglobin when it meets air. It doesn’t always mean the chicken’s bad, just possibly not as fresh.

If your chicken has been correctly stored in a fridge or freezer, minor color changes are usually fine.

But, if you spot obvious signs like mold, toss the chicken. Unlike some cheeses where you can cut off the moldy bit, with chicken, you have to discard the whole piece.

Cooked chicken

Once cooked, the chicken should appear white without any pink bits. Pink indicates the chicken might not be fully cooked.

If you save cooked chicken for later, store it in the fridge below 40°F (4°C) in a closed container, but eat it within 3 days.

Remember, chicken left outside between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C) for long can go bad, as bacteria grow rapidly in this range, posing a health risk.

If you see mold or unexpected color changes on your stored cooked chicken, it is better to be safe and throw it out.

Spices or sauces might hide mold or color shifts. Hence, try to consume the chicken within 3 days of cooking. And when reheating, ensure the chicken reaches at least 165°F (74°C), checking with a food thermometer.

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Summary: Fresh raw chicken is usually light pink. If it turns gray or another unexpected color, it might be spoiled. Cooked chicken should look white and be free of mold and odd residues.


One clear indication of spoiled chicken is a bad odor.

When raw chicken is fresh, its scent is very light or even nonexistent. But if your chicken starts to smell sour or gives off a rotten egg-like aroma, it’s time to toss it.

Still, don’t depend solely on the smell to decide if chicken is safe. Everyone’s nose is different, and some might not detect certain odors. Always check for other spoilage indicators as well.

Summary: Fresh chicken typically has a very faint smell or none. It might be past its prime if it emits a strong, sour scent.


When you touch fresh raw chicken, it should feel slightly moist and shine slightly.

It shouldn’t feel slippery or sticky. If you find a gooey residue on your hands after handling the chicken, it’s likely not good anymore.

Cooked chicken should be more solid and less moist than its raw counterpart. It might have spoiled if it becomes extra soft, gooey, or leaves a residue.

Summary: Good raw chicken has a moist, slightly shiny surface and isn’t slippery. Spoiled cooked chicken might feel overly soft, slimy, or sticky.

Purchase and expiration date

Checking the expiration and purchase dates can also help you assess the chicken’s freshness.

Before buying, always inspect the expiration date. Sometimes, chicken packaging might show two dates: a “pack date” and a “best if used by” date.

The “pack date” indicates when the chicken was packaged. It’s mainly for sellers, not consumers.

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On the other hand, the “use by” or expiration date tells when the chicken will likely be at its best quality. If you’ll eat the chicken within a day or two, you can buy one nearing its expiration date, often found on sale. However, if you can’t consume it before the expiration, consider freezing it.

Pick up raw chicken towards the end of your shopping to reduce the time it stays out of the fridge. Once home, refrigerate or freeze it promptly.

If stored properly in the freezer, chicken can remain good for up to 9 months. Mark the purchase date on the package before freezing. In the fridge, uncooked chicken stays good for 1–2 days.

If the chicken is already cooked, consume it within 3-4 days, keeping it refrigerated.

Summary: Always check the expiry date when buying chicken. Store it correctly in the fridge or freezer to ensure its freshness.


Knowing if your chicken has gone bad is essential for your and your family’s health.

Fresh raw chicken typically appears light pink with white fatty parts, smells neutral, and feels slightly damp and tender. However, if the chicken feels slippery, emits a strong unpleasant odor, or its color turns yellowish, green, or grayish, it’s probably not safe to eat.

Always discard chicken that’s exceeded its expiry date, stayed more than 2 days uncooked or 4 days cooked in the refrigerator, or has remained outside of safe temperature levels for over 2 hours.

Remember the age-old advice: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

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