Chicken is a versatile, nutritious food that’s a diet staple for many households.

However, like many poultry and meat products, chicken can spoil. This can affect its taste and texture — and in some cases, make you ill.

That’s why it’s important to know how to tell whether chicken has gone bad. Fortunately, you can look for certain signs to make sure you’re eating chicken that is safe to consume.

This article helps you learn how to tell whether chicken has gone bad.

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Cameron Whitman/Stocksy United

Depending on whether you have raw or cooked chicken, there are a few important things to notice in terms of its appearance and color.

Raw chicken

Before preparing chicken, it’s important to look at its appearance for signs of spoilage.

Raw chicken should have a light pink color with white fatty pieces. If the flesh is gray or green or if the fat is yellow in color, this is a sign of spoilage and you should discard the chicken.

That said, it’s normal if there are mild color changes in the chicken’s flesh.

For example, you may observe a slight darkening or fading of the pink flesh, a normal result of oxymyoglobin — a red protein and pigment — converting to metmyoglobin after being exposed to oxygen (1).

Though not always a sign of spoilage, this can mean that the chicken isn’t as fresh.

Typically, as long as the chicken is safely stored in the refrigerator or freezer, mild color changes are normal.

Finally, if you notice any visible signs of spoilage, such as mold growth, throw the chicken out. Unlike with hard cheese, you can’t just cut off a small section where mold growth has occurred, so you should discard the entire piece or batch of chicken.

Cooked chicken

Cooked chicken should be white, with no pink pieces of flesh. Pink flesh is a sign of undercooked chicken.

If you’re storing chicken as leftovers, be sure to keep it in the refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) or less, in a sealed container for a maximum of 3 days.

And be sure to put it right in the fridge after cooking or eating — chicken can spoil if left out in the “danger zone” of 40°F (4°C) to 140°F (60°C) for more than a few hours.

This is a temperature range in which bacteria grows exponentially and increases the risk for foodborne illness (2).

If you notice any visible signs of mold growth or color changes between the time you put the chicken in the refrigerate and when you intend to eat it, throw it away (2).

It can be difficult to spot mold or color changes if there are any seasonings or dressings on the chicken.

That’s why you should eat the chicken within 3 days of cooking it. Be sure to reheat the chicken to at least 165°F (74°C), using a food thermometer to measure its internal temperature (2, 3).

Summary

If raw chicken is gray, green, or any color other than light pink, this is a sign it has gone bad. Cooked chicken should be white with no visible mold growth or residues.

A telltale sign of bad chicken is a foul smell.

Raw, fresh chicken will have a very mild smell or none at all. If your chicken has a very apparent smell, such as a sour or sulfur-like smell similar to rotten eggs, throw it out.

However, you should never rely on smell alone to determine if chicken is safe to eat.

People’s sense of smell can vary, which means not everyone will notice a change in the smell of chicken. So, look out for other signs of spoilage as well.

Summary

Chicken that has gone bad will usually have a sour or sulfur-like smell. Most often, fresh chicken has limited to no smell at all.

Fresh raw chicken has a glossy, somewhat soft texture.

It shouldn’t be slimy, sticky, or tacky. If your hands have a slimy residue on them after touching raw chicken, this is a sign it has gone bad.

Cooked chicken is firm and drier than raw chicken. If you notice any texture changes, such as increased softness, sliminess, stickiness, or residue, it’s likely no longer safe to eat.

Summary

Raw chicken shouldn’t be slimy, sticky, or tacky and should be glossy and somewhat soft. Cooked chicken that has gone bad will usually be slimy, sticky, and overly soft.

Along with clear signs of spoilage, it’s also important to look at the expiration date as well as consider when you purchased the chicken.

First, always look at the expiration date before purchasing chicken. You may notice that a package of chicken can have two dates listed on it: a “pack date” and a “best if used by” date.

The first refers to the date the chicken was packaged and is intended for use by manufacturers and retailers, rather than consumers.

Instead, the “use by” (expiration) date is the one you should refer to. This is the date by which the manufacturer recommends you use the food in order to experience “peak quality.”

If you plan to eat chicken within 1–2 days, you can choose a package that’s approaching its expiry date, which is usually on sale. If you’re not going to use fresh chicken by its expiry date, it’s best to freeze it for later use (2).

It’s also best to grab raw chicken at the end of your grocery trip. This reduces the time it spends in your cart in the danger zone.

Be sure to take the chicken home immediately and place it in the fridge or freezer.

In the freezer, chicken can last up to at least 9 months, provided it’s tightly sealed. Before putting the chicken in the freezer, write the purchase date on the package to keep track (2, 4).

In the fridge, fresh uncooked chicken can last 1–2 days (2, 4).

If you have already cooked the chicken, you need to eat it within 3-4 days, and you should always store it in the refrigerator.

Summary

Look for chicken with an expiry date that’s at least a few days later than the purchase date. Be sure to store it in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours to prevent spoilage.

Being able to tell when your chicken has gone bad will help keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness.

Fresh raw chicken is usually a light pink color with white pieces of fat, has little to no odor, and is soft and moist. If your chicken is slimy, has a foul smell, or has changed to a yellow, green, or gray color, these are signs that your chicken has gone bad.

Toss any chicken that’s past its expiration date, has been in the fridge for more than 2 days raw or 4 day cooked, or has been in the temperature danger zone for over 2 hours.

Though these signs are useful, the saying rings true: “When in doubt, throw it out.”