How Long Is Chicken Good For After the Sell-By Date? Your Guide to Safe Consumption

When it comes to food safety, understanding expiration dates and guidelines is crucial. One common question that arises is, “How long is chicken good for ...

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Calvin Lamb

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How Long Is Chicken Good For After the Sell-By Date?

When it comes to food safety, understanding expiration dates and guidelines is crucial. One common question that arises is, “How long is chicken good for after the sell-by date?” While the sell-by date is an indicator of freshness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the chicken is no longer safe to eat. This article aims to provide you with a comprehensive guide on safely consuming chicken after the sell-by date, ensuring you make informed decisions and avoid foodborne illnesses.

The Sell-By Date: What Does It Mean?

Before we delve into the topic, it’s important to understand the sell-by date. The sell-by date is a label provided by retailers to indicate the date by which the product should be sold. It helps them manage their inventory and ensure that customers have sufficient time to use the product at home.

However, the sell-by date is not an expiration date. It is an estimate of how long the chicken will maintain its peak quality when properly stored. Therefore, it’s crucial to assess the chicken’s freshness using other indicators rather than relying solely on the sell-by date.

The Difference Between Sell-By, Best-By, and Use-By Dates

To avoid confusion, it’s crucial to differentiate between different types of dates found on food products. Sell-by dates, as mentioned earlier, are primarily for retailers. On the other hand, best-by dates suggest the time frame during which the product is at its peak quality but does not necessarily mean it is unsafe to consume after that date. Use by dates, however, indicate the date by which the product should be consumed for optimal safety and quality.

How Long Is Chicken Good For After the Sell-By Date?

Generally, raw chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for 1–2 days after the sell-by date. Cooked chicken can last up to four days when stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) or lower in an airtight container. Freezing is also a viable option if you plan on consuming the chicken within two to three months of purchase. However, freezing does not guarantee indefinite storage.

When it comes to safety, always inspect chicken for signs of spoilage before consuming. The best way to determine if a raw chicken has gone bad is by its colour and smell. If the chicken appears slimy or there’s an off odour coming from the package, discard it regardless of its sell-by date.

In conclusion, understanding the sell-by date on a package of chicken is important for food safety and consumption. With proper care, chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days after the sell-by date or frozen for two to three months. However, always inspect raw chicken before consuming it, as spoiled meat can cause foodborne illnesses.

Factors Affecting Chicken’s Shelf Life

Several factors influence the shelf life of chicken, including:

Packaging: Properly sealed and airtight packaging helps maintain the chicken’s freshness and extends its shelf life.

Temperature: Chicken should be stored at or below 40°F (4°C) to prevent bacterial growth.

Quality: The initial quality of the chicken, including its freshness at the time of purchase, affects how long it will remain safe to consume.

Handling: Proper handling practices, such as avoiding cross-contamination and preventing exposure to temperature abuse, can significantly impact the chicken’s shelf life.

Proper Storage of Chicken

To maximize the shelf life and ensure the safety of chicken after the sell-by date, follow these storage guidelines:

Refrigeration: Immediately refrigerate chicken after purchase and keep it stored at or below 40°F (4°C).

Store in Original Packaging: Leave the chicken in its original packaging unless it’s torn or damaged. If necessary, transfer it to airtight containers or freezer bags.

Separate from Other Foods: Keep chicken separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.

Use the Coldest Part of the Refrigerator: Store chicken in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually the back or bottom shelves.

Avoid Temperature Fluctuations: Do not leave chicken at room temperature for more than two hours, as it increases the risk of bacterial growth.

How to Determine if Chicken is Safe to Eat

While the sell-by date provides a general guideline, it doesn’t guarantee the safety or spoilage of chicken. To determine if chicken is safe to eat, you need to rely on your senses and employ some basic observations. Here are a few indicators to consider:

Appearance: Check for any changes in the chicken’s colour. Fresh chicken typically has a pinkish hue. If it appears greyish or has any green or yellow discolouration, it may be a sign of spoilage. Additionally, if there are visible signs of mould or an unpleasant odour, it’s best to discard the chicken.

Texture: Fresh chicken should feel firm and springy to the touch. If it feels slimy, sticky, or has a mushy texture, it is likely spoiled and should not be consumed.

Smell: Give the chicken a sniff. Fresh chicken has a mild, clean odour. If there is a strong, sour, or foul smell, it indicates spoilage.

Expiration Date: While the sell-by date is not an absolute indicator, if the chicken is significantly past the sell-by date, it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming it.

Remember, if you have any doubts about the chicken’s freshness or safety, it’s always better to discard it to prevent the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Recommended Timeframes for Chicken Consumption

To ensure the highest level of safety and quality, it is advisable to consume chicken within certain timeframes:

Fresh Chicken: If the chicken is properly stored in the refrigerator, it is recommended to consume it within 1-2 days of the sell-by date.

Cooked Chicken: Cooked chicken can be safely consumed within 3-4 days if stored in the refrigerator.

Frozen Chicken: If you have frozen the chicken before the sell-by date, it can remain safe to eat for several months. However, for the best quality, it is advisable to consume it within 9-12 months.

Always use your judgment and consider the chicken’s appearance, smell, and texture before consuming it, regardless of the recommended timeframes.

Safe Handling Practices for Chicken

To minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses associated with chicken consumption, follow these safe handling practices:

Wash Hands: Before and after handling chicken, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to prevent cross-contamination.

Separate Raw and Cooked Chicken: Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and plates for raw and cooked chicken to prevent cross-contamination. Avoid using the same marinade or sauce that has come into contact with raw chicken on cooked chicken.

Cook Thoroughly: Ensure chicken is cooked to the recommended internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill any harmful bacteria.

Avoid Thawing at Room Temperature: If you need to thaw frozen chicken, do so in the refrigerator, microwave, or using the cold-water method. Avoid thawing at room temperature, as it promotes bacterial growth.

Properly Store Leftovers: If you have leftover cooked chicken, refrigerate it promptly in airtight containers to maintain its freshness and safety.

Common Myths About Chicken Expiration

There are several myths surrounding chicken expiration that can lead to confusion. Let’s debunk some of these myths:

“As long as it smells fine, it’s safe to eat”: This is not true. Even if the chicken doesn’t have an off odour, it could still harbour harmful bacteria.

“Freezing chicken resets the expiration date”: Freezing slows down bacterial growth but doesn’t eliminate it entirely. It’s important to adhere to recommended timeframes for frozen chicken consumption.

“Sell-by date is the same as an expiration date”: The sell-by date is not an expiration date but a guide for retailers. It’s crucial to assess the chicken’s quality and safety using other indicators to determine its freshness.

“Chicken can be consumed even if it’s slightly pink”: It’s important to note that undercooked chicken poses a risk of foodborne illness. Always ensure chicken is cooked thoroughly, reaching an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

“Spoiled chicken will always have a bad smell”: While a foul odour is a strong indication of spoilage, some harmful bacteria may not produce noticeable odours. Therefore, relying solely on smell is not a reliable method of determining safety.

It’s crucial to rely on proper storage, handling, and the aforementioned indicators of freshness to ensure the safety of chicken consumption.

Freezing Chicken for Extended Shelf Life

Freezing chicken is an excellent way to extend its shelf life beyond the sell-by date. Follow these guidelines for freezing chicken:

Packaging: Remove the chicken from its original packaging and place it in freezer-safe, airtight containers or freezer bags. Ensure to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn.

Labelling: Label each package with the date of freezing to keep track of its age.

Temperature: Set your freezer to 0°F (-18°C) or below for optimal storage.

Freezer Timeframes: While frozen chicken remains safe to eat indefinitely, it’s recommended to consume it within 9-12 months for the best quality and flavour.

Thawing: Thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator, microwave, or using the cold-water method. Avoid thawing at room temperature to minimize the risk of bacterial growth.

By following these freezing guidelines, you can safely store the chicken for an extended period, allowing you to reduce food waste and have a convenient protein source readily available.

Tips for Reducing Food Waste

Reducing food waste is not only beneficial for the environment but also for your budget. Here are some tips to minimize food waste related to chicken:

Proper Meal Planning: Plan your meals in advance to ensure you only purchase the amount of chicken you need. This reduces the likelihood of excess chicken going to waste.

Storage Organization: Keep your refrigerator and freezer organized to prevent the chicken from being forgotten and expiring.

Leftovers Utilization: Repurpose leftover chicken into delicious meals like salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries. Get creative and experiment with different recipes to make the most of your leftovers.

Share with Others: If you have excess chicken that you won’t be able to consume before it spoils, consider sharing it with friends, family, or neighbours who can use it.

Composting: If the chicken does spoil or becomes inedible, composting is a sustainable way to dispose of it. Check local regulations or composting facilities in your area for guidance.

By adopting these practices, you can minimize food waste, save money, and contribute to a more sustainable future.


Understanding the shelf life of a chicken and how to assess its safety after the sell-by date is essential for responsible consumption. While the sell-by date serves as a guide for retailers, it does not determine the chicken’s freshness or safety. By relying on your senses, proper storage techniques, and recommended timeframes for consumption, you can make informed decisions about the chicken you consume.

Remember to prioritize food safety, follow safe handling practices, and reduce food waste. By doing so, you can enjoy delicious and safe chicken dishes while minimizing environmental impact.


Can I eat chicken after the sell-by date?

The sell-by date is not an indicator of the chicken’s safety. Assess its freshness using appearance, texture, and smell before consuming.

How long can I store fresh chicken in the refrigerator?

Fresh chicken can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to 1-2 days. It’s important to keep it in airtight packaging on a bottom shelf at or below 40°F (4°C) to prevent bacterial growth and maintain its quality.

Is it safe to consume cooked chicken past the sell-by date?

Cooked chicken can be safely consumed within 3-4 days if stored in the refrigerator.

Can I freeze the chicken to extend its shelf life?

Yes, freezing chicken can extend its shelf life. Properly package it in freezer-safe containers or bags, and consume it within 9-12 months for the best quality.

How can I tell if the chicken has gone bad?

Check for changes in colour, texture, and odour. Greyish colour, slimy or mushy texture, and a strong, foul smell are signs of spoilage.

Can I thaw frozen chicken at room temperature?

It is recommended to thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator, microwave, or use the cold-water method. Thawing at room temperature can promote bacterial growth.

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