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How Long Does Chicken Keep in the Refrigerator?

Posted Jul 30 2009 12:03am

Fancy Fowl

W hen asked, how long does chicken keep in the refrigerator, the best answer is, “It  depends.”

There are several factors to consider including:

  • Is the chicken raw or cooked?
  • How fresh was it when you placed it in the refrigerator?
  • Is the refrigerator maintaining a temperature of 40 or colder?
  • Was raw chicken kept cold when transported from the store?

How long cooked chicken will keep is different than for uncooked chicken.  As a general rule, raw chicken is very perishable and will keep in the refrigerator for only 1 to 2 days. When the question is how long does cooked chicken keep, the general rule is 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a lot of information on its website to help insure food safety and most general all-purpose cookbooks include tips on buying, storing, and cooking chicken and poultry.

General Guidelines for Keeping Chicken

  • Check the “use by” or “sell by” date on all packaged chicken.
  • Choose well wrapped packages without any tears, holes, or leaks.
  • Make sure the package feels cold.
  • Place packages of chicken in plastic bags (if possible) before placing them in your grocery cart to prevent them from dripping or leaking onto other foods.
  • Get your chicken home and in the refrigerator as quickly as you can. During the summer, I keep a cooler in my car so that chicken and other perishables are kept cold during the trip home. This is important when it will take more than 30 minutes to get it home and in the refrigerator.
  • Don’t let suggested times overrule your your senses and common sense.  If the chicken looks or smells bad, it is best to err on the side of caution.  When in doubt throw it out.

Refrigerator Storage Timeframes (at 40 F or below) :

  • Uncooked Chicken: 1 to 2 days
  • Leftover Cooked Chicken: 3 to 4 days
  • Chicken Broth or Gravy: 1 to 2 days
  • Chicken Salad: 3 to 5 days

Storing Fresh Raw Chicken

Follow all handling recommendations on the package. Re-wrap chicken wrapped in butcher paper tightly in plastic wrap or place it in a plastic freezer bag. Get your chicken home and in the refrigerator as quickly as you can.  At home, immediately place chicken in the coldest part of your refrigerator and use it within 1 or 2 days, or freeze it.

Freezing Raw Chicken
If you won’t be using the chicken within 1 to 2 days of purchase, place it in the freezer.  Chicken will keep in the freeze for up to a year, although it will deteriorate and dry out from air exposure over time.  For longer storage in the freezer, be sure to wrap you chicken in heavy duty foil, freezer paper, plastic wrap or place it in a freezer bag to prevent “freezer burn.”

Defrosting Raw Chicken Safely
You can safely defrost chicken three ways: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Never defrost chicken on the kitchen counter. Boneless chicken parts will usually defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer. Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 additional days before cooking.

For quicker defrosting, submerge the chicken (wrapped in it’s packaging or placed in a water tight bag) in cold water and be sure to change the water every 30 minutes so it stays cold. A whole chicken or package of parts should defrost in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless chicken will defrost in an hour or less.

You can also defrost chicken in the microwave, but this is my least preferred method since, in my experience, some areas get warm and begin to cook during the defrosting.

Sources:USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service; Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today, New Tenth Edition

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