How to Tell if Chicken is Bad

Amber Bracegirdle | Bluebonnet Baker

Learn how to tell if chicken is bad, whether it's frozen, raw or cooked.

Everyone loves a reduction in price, and you can sometimes find some great deals on chicken that's close to its sell-by date. But how can you tell whether or not the chicken is still perfectly safe to eat, especially if it's very close to its expiration date?

Or what if you have a cooked chicken that you'd like to add to a salad... but you're unsure if it's still good?

Chori Pollo Photo

Then use these handy tips to help you spot bad chicken and avoid a nasty illness.

Sell-by dates

A sell-by date on a package of chicken is not a sole indicator of whether chicken is good to use or not! The sell by date is the final date that it can be displayed for purchase. You can freeze chicken to extend its life; for example, fresh chicken can be frozen for up to nine months past the sell by date displayed on the package. 

Chinese Chicken Salad Picture

There are a few key points you should be looking for when identifying whether chicken had gone bad:

- Color

- Smell

- Texture

When checking raw chicken: 

Fleshy parts of raw chicken will begin to look grey as they starts to spoil. You can still use chicken that looks a little dull, but ideally as soon as possible. But if the chicken appears more grey than pink, it is safer to discard the chicken. 

The smell of spoiled raw chicken is pungent, sour and similar to ammonia. If any unpleasant smells come from raw chicken or from the chicken you’re cooking, then throw the chicken away.

While raw chicken does tend to have a slightly slimy feel to it, if it is still slimy after washing, it is likely that it has gone bad. If the chicken is excessively slimy, it would definitely be considered as spoiled. 

Chicken Tinga Tacos Image

When checking frozen chicken:

If there is a thick layer of ice on the chicken, it isn’t good to use. A white ice layer could also indicate freezer burn. Freezer burn doesn’t necessarily mean the chicken is bad, but it just may not taste as nice. To tell if your chicken has freezer burn, look for a whitish 'rash' on the meat that is not fat. It usually has a rough feel to it and may appear raised. 

Checking the color on frozen chicken can be quite difficult, but if it appears slightly grey or the fat is beginning to yellow, it may not be safe to use. Any chicken that is darker than grey, should be discarded, it as it is not safe to eat. 

Chicken Satay Stir Fry Pic

When checking cooked chicken:

Identifying spoiled cooked chicken by smell can be harder, as the seasoning on the chicken can mask smells. However, if the chicken has an unpleasant smell - such as rotten eggs or sulphur - it is not safe to use. 

Again, the color test is much harder with cooked chicken, especially if the chicken has been breaded, marinated or glazed. Cooked chicken should look white - any grey parts indicate chicken that is going off and should not be eaten. 

If you ever have any uncertainty with your chicken, it is safer to get rid of it rather than run the risk of getting sick - food poisoning is no fun! 

Chicken Asparagus Pasta Picture

Tasty chicken dishes to try

Once you've established that your chicken is good to use, why not try this Creamy Chicken Fajita Pasta or this amazing Chori Pollo recipe? And here's a great recipe for Greek Lemon Chicken Soup that's ideal if you're following a Paleo diet.

Amber Bracegirdle

About Amber

Amber is a native Texan, born to a family of fabulous cooks. She shares her love of all things Tex-Mex and Southern both on her blog, Bluebonnet Baker, and here on Food Fanatic. She heavily endorses the use of the contraction "y'all".