- Cuts of chicken, or any ground meat, should be used within one-to-two days of purchase.
- Chicken that has gone bad will develop a slimy or sticky texture and smell bad or “off.”
- Don’t taste meat to determine if it’s safe to eat or not. Call the USDA’s hotline.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Chicken is a versatile meat that makes for a simple, delicious dinner or a decadent fried treat. It goes just as well with veggies as it does with waffles and is a good source of protein. But handling it improperly can cause serious health issues.
Argyris Magoulas, a specialist at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, spoke to INSIDER about when chicken is safe to eat and when it’s spoiled.
Here are three ways to tell if chicken is past its prime.
It’s been in your refrigerator too long
The USDA recommends that cuts of chicken or meat that is ground should be used within one-to-two days of purchase.
“You really don’t want to wait until it smells or shows signs of spoilage to discard it,” Magoulas said. “You want to go by recommended storage times.”
There’s no limit to how long meat can be safely kept in the freezer, where it’s too cold for bacteria to develop. But meat that has been frozen for a long time tends to dry out. Magoulas recommends keeping steaks for no longer than one year for the best quality.
The texture and smell seem off
If the chicken is sticky, slimy, tacky, or smells bad, toss it.
“Typically with meats, they will be sticky, slimy, and have off or foul odours” when they have gone bad, Magoulas said.
A change in colour doesn’t necessarily mean that chicken has gone bad, but it’s worth a second look
Chicken can sometimes change colours and become faded or darker due to metmyoglobin, a chemical reaction that occurs when the myoglobin in meat is exposed to oxygen. Freezing meat can also change its appearance. As long as the change in colour isn’t accompanied by other signs of spoilage, it should be fine.
“It’s not unusual to see that off colour,” Magoulas said. “The colour of meat sometimes changes. If it doesn’t smell or have stickiness and was bought by the ‘sell by’ date, it should be ok. If it’s smelling and sticky, then you don’t want it.”
If you’re still not sure, better safe than sorry
Concerned carnivores can get more detailed guidance from the USDA’s toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), available on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET. A wealth of online resources are also available 24 hours a day.
Magoulas urges people with questions about their meat to make use of the USDA’s expertise instead of tasting something that you think might be spoiled and risking food poisoning.
“Never taste to determine safety,” he said. “Call us.”
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