How Long Is Chicken Good For After Sell By Date | Answer Now

Navigating the often confusing terrain of food labels, especially when it comes to understanding the “sell by” dates, can feel like a culinary puzzle. This is particularly true for perishable items like chicken, where the stakes for food safety are high. Our comprehensive guide demystifies the timelines and safety measures you need to know about how long is chicken good for after sell by date. With insights drawn from food safety experts and the latest in preservation technology, we’re here to ensure that your kitchen remains a space of culinary delight, free from the worries of foodborne illnesses.

This article doesn’t just offer a simple timeline; it delves into the science of spoilage, the nuances of refrigeration, and even touches on how freezing affects the quality and safety of chicken. By understanding these key factors, you’ll not only ensure that you’re serving meals that are safe to eat, but you’ll also reduce waste by maximizing the shelf life of your poultry.

Understanding Date Labels on Chicken

Understanding Date Labels on Chicken

Sell-by, use-by, and best-by dates serve different purposes. Here’s an overview of what each label means:

  • Sell-by date: This date indicates when the grocery store should stop selling the chicken. It offers a general guideline for peak quality rather than safety.
  • Use-by date: This is the last date recommended for use of the chicken when it’s at peak quality and safety. After this date, spoilage is more likely.
  • Best-by date: This date indicates when the chicken’s flavor and texture are best, but it’s still safe to use after the date if it’s been stored properly.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t strictly regulate date labeling except for infant formula and baby foods. So practices vary between retailers. Some states have stricter requirements for quality-based dates. It’s important to check with your grocer to understand their specific labeling policies.

Globally, date labeling is inconsistent. The European Union has banned sell-by dates to reduce food waste. Products must display a use-by date related to safety. Canada provides voluntary codes that favor best-before wording. Australia and New Zealand use best-before labeling but don’t regulate it.

Always read date wording carefully and check chicken for other signs of freshness regardless of the printed date. Don’t solely rely on date labels to determine if chicken is still usable.

Sell-By vs. Use-By vs. Best-By Dates: What’s the Difference?

To use date labels properly, you need to understand the specifics of each one:

Sell-By Date

  • Purpose: Inventory management for retailers
  • Timeframe: Typically 3-5 days after packing
  • Indicates: Last recommended day for retailers to sell
  • Does NOT indicate: Safety or quality after sale

The sell-by date is meant for grocery stores to rotate stock. The retailer must pull chicken from shelves on or before this date. But the USDA confirms sell-by dates don’t indicate food spoilage. Assuming proper handling, chicken is generally safe even if consumed weeks after the sell-by date.

Use-By Date

  • Purpose: Food safety guideline
  • Timeframe: Estimated last day chicken is at peak quality
  • Indicates: Final day chicken should be eaten for best flavor/texture
  • Does NOT guarantee: Safety after expiration

The use-by date tries to inform consumers when chicken could begin to spoil. Germs grow fastest at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. After the use-by date, the risk of food poisoning increases if chicken was improperly stored. But briefly exceeding this date doesn’t necessarily mean chicken is unsafe if properly refrigerated.

Best-By Date

  • Purpose: Recommended quality, not safety
  • Timeframe: When chicken will start deteriorating
  • Indicates: Estimated last date of best flavor/texture
  • Does NOT indicate: Safety or precise spoilage

Best-by indicates the date when chicken flavor/texture might begin to degrade. The USDA defines it as “recommended for best flavor or quality”, not for safety. Chicken stored properly can still be enjoyable to eat for a short time after this date. But maximum freshness can’t be guaranteed.

Safety First: Can You Eat Chicken After the Sell-By Date?

Safety First: Can You Eat Chicken After the Sell-By Date?

Sell-by dates are not safety dates. So eating chicken after the sell-by date typically isn’t dangerous by itself, as long as you follow safe storage and handling procedures. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Store chicken below 40°F in the fridge immediately after purchase. Freezing extends shelf life even further. Proper temperatures restrict pathogen growth.
  • Inspect package seals and chicken appearance/smell. If there are no signs of spoilage, it should be safe. Avoid chicken with an off odor, sliminess, or discoloration.
  • Cook chicken thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature. This kills any bacteria present, including pathogens that could grow after the sell-by date. Safe handling is key.
  • Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Eat within 3-4 days or freeze for 2-6 months. Don’t keep leftovers too long, even if cooked thoroughly.
  • Take into account your personal health status. Those with weakened immune systems should be more cautious with foodborne illness risks. Avoid questionable chicken.

The sell-by date alone won’t guarantee chicken safety. But overall, properly handled chicken that lacks spoilage indicators can be safely eaten for a period after the displayed date. Good refrigeration and thorough cooking nullify many potential risks.

How Long is Chicken Good After the Sell-By Date?

After the sell-by date, raw chicken is generally safe to eat for up to 2 days if stored properly in the fridge according to the USDA. However, it is crucial to check for signs of spoilage like a bad smell, texture changes, or slime before consuming it. Here are some guidelines on how long chicken remains safe to eat after the sell-by date:

  • 1-2 Days After Sell-By Date: Fresh raw chicken can typically last in the fridge for up to 2 days past the sell-by date if stored correctly.
  • 3 Days After Sell-By Date: While it is recommended to cook or freeze chicken within 1-2 days of purchase, if the chicken shows no signs of spoilage, it should still be safe to consume 3 days beyond the sell-by date.
  • 4 Days After Sell-By Date: If raw chicken looks and smells fresh even after 4 days past the sell-by date, it is likely safe to eat. However, always use your best judgment and discard if unsure or if there are any signs of spoilage.
  • 5 Days After Sell-By Date: Chicken that is 5 days past the sell-by date should generally be discarded to avoid potential food poisoning risks due to bacterial growth.
  • Beyond 2 Weeks: It is not recommended to consume raw chicken that is two weeks past its sell-by date due to the increased risk of harmful bacteria development. In such cases, it is best to discard the chicken.

Factors Influencing Chicken Shelf Life

Many variables impact raw chicken’s usable lifespan besides the sell-by date. Consider these factors for safely maximizing freshness:

Storage Temperature

  • Refrigerate below 40°F. Chicken can spoil in 1-2 days at room temperature.
  • Freeze at 0°F or below. Freezing prevents spoilage but shouldn’t replace refrigeration after thawing.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations. The fridge temperature rising repeatedly shortens shelf life.

Packaging Type

  • Vacuum-sealed packaging prolongs freshness. It helps inhibit oxygen exposure.
  • Make sure packaging isn’t compromised. Small tears can exponentially increase spoilage rate.
  • Re-wrap chicken in fresh plastic wrap or bags if the original package is damaged or leaking.

Chicken Type

  • Whole chickens last longer than parts. More exposed surface area means faster spoilage.
  • Boneless, skinless cuts deteriorate quickest since there’s more area for bacteria.
  • Chicken tenders and ground chicken have the shortest shelf lives: 1-2 days refrigerated.

Quality at Time of Purchase

  • Choose packages without tears or leaks. Avoid chicken that already looks spoiled.
  • Check the sell-by date when selecting packages. Pick ones with the furthest-out date.
  • Make the grocery store your last shopping stop before going home. Limit the chicken’s unrefrigerated time.

Proper Handling

  • Quickly refrigerate chicken after purchase, ideally within 1 hour. Don’t leave it in the car.
  • Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces that touch raw chicken to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Follow suggested refrigerator storage times once chicken is opened or cooked.

Monitor your specific storage conditions. Adjust timeframes based on factors like packaging, chicken type, prep handling, and how well your refrigerator maintains temperature.

Advanced Storage Techniques: Extending Freshness

Proper storage from purchase to consumption is the best way to maximize chicken’s usable life. Try these innovative storage techniques:

  • Vacuum sealing. Use a vacuum sealer appliance or bag to remove oxygen exposure and prevent freezer burn. This locks in moisture and freshness.
  • Marinades. Marinating chicken can make it juicier and more tender if you plan to freeze or use it later. The salt and acid help retain moisture.
  • Freezer wrapping. Use multiple layers of plastic wrap, foil, and freezer bags to protect chicken. This prevents freezer burn which causes dryness.
  • Thawing. Thaw frozen chicken slowly over 24 hours in the fridge, never at room temperature. This helps prevent bacterial growth in partially thawed outer areas.
  • Portioning. Freeze chicken in usable portion sizes to enable single-serve thawing and cooking. Individual pieces thaw faster than whole packages.

With the right storage methods, you can prolong chicken’s shelf life well past the sell-by date. Maintain consistent refrigeration and freezer temperatures and avoid any temperature fluctuations.

Identifying Spoiled Chicken: A Practical Guide

Relying solely on smell or the sell-by date isn’t foolproof for identifying spoiled chicken. Here are the most reliable ways to check:


  • Raw chicken naturally has a mild odor. A distinct, unpleasant sour or ammonia-like smell means spoilage.
  • Cooked chicken should retain a pleasant aroma. If it smells bad after cooking, it has spoiled.
  • Rely more on smell for whole chickens vs. small cuts. Smell can permeate a whole bird but not be detectable in pieces.

Visual Appearance

  • Look for discoloration or dark spots on raw chicken. This indicates microbial growth.
  • Don’t eat chicken with dry, tacky surfaces. This results from freezer burn or age.
  • Cooked chicken shouldn’t be slimy. Discard it if the cooked texture seems off.


  • Raw chicken should feel moist but not excessively sticky or slimy. Stickiness indicates bacterial growth.
  • Pressed cooked chicken shouldn’t release water. Excess liquid points to spoilage.
  • Frozen chicken shouldn’t contain large ice crystals inside. This is a sign it thawed and refroze.

When inspecting chicken, consider all your senses together instead of relying on one factor alone. Use caution and discard anything with an off odor, appearance, or texture.

Proper Chicken Storage: Ensuring Safety and Quality

Proper Chicken Storage: Ensuring Safety and Quality

Follow these refrigerator and freezer storage guidelines to maximize chicken’s usable lifespan:

Raw Chicken

  • Refrigerate raw chicken on lower shelves below ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination from drips.
  • Place chicken in a container or bag to restrict leakage. Otherwise keep it on a plate to catch leaks.
  • Use ground chicken and chicken pieces within 1-2 days. Whole chicken lasts 1-2 days longer.

Cooked Chicken

  • Discard any chicken left at room temperature over 2 hours. Bacteria multiply quickly at 40-140°F.
  • Store cooked chicken in airtight containers up to 4 days in the fridge.
  • Freeze leftovers in meal-size portions. Thaw in the fridge before reheating.

Frozen Chicken

  • Freeze raw chicken up to 9 months for maximum quality. Cooked chicken should be eaten within 4 months.
  • Don’t refreeze thawed chicken or freeze chicken that was previously frozen beyond its sell-by date.
  • Monitor freezer temperature. Fluctuations above 0°F shorten shelf life.

Following proper protocols for refrigerating, freezing, thawing, and reheating chicken is vital to prevent illness and retain quality.

Cooking and Nutritional Considerations

Thorough cooking is always important for food safety when preparing chicken. The right techniques can also maximize moisture, flavor, and nutrition beyond the sell-by date:

  • Use a food thermometer to verify chicken reaches 165°F internally before removing from heat. This kills any potential pathogens. If concerned about spoilage, aim for at least 175°F.
  • Adjust cooking methods based on age. Try marinades, braising, or stewing for older chicken to help tenderize it.
  • Microwave thawed chicken immediately until 165°F. Partially thawed areas could harbor bacteria. Don’t let it sit at room temperature.
  • Avoid overcooking chicken, especially the breast, which dries out easily. Use the minimum safe cook times for best moisture.
  • Buy chicken with the skin on and cook it for added flavor. But remove the skin before eating to cut fat and calories.
  • Refrigerate and freeze chicken broth for up to 4 days and 4 months, respectively. Boiling broth before use is prudent.

For maximum safety, always use a food thermometer to verify doneness regardless of the sell-by date. Adjust cooking techniques as needed to retain juiciness and flavor as chicken ages. Nutritionally, chicken stored properly after its sell-by date is generally still good to eat. Freezing stops nutrient loss. With cooking, the main concerns are protein denaturing and loss of water-soluble vitamins. Use safer handling and preparation to extend nutritional value.

The Environmental and Ethical Side of Chicken Consumption

Chicken offers an affordable and sustainable meat option. But consumption still impacts the environment. Consider these tips for eco-friendly enjoyment of chicken:

  • Check for “free-range” or “pasture-raised” on labels when shopping. This indicates more humane farming practices with environmental benefits.
  • Buy locally-raised chicken when possible. It cuts transportation emissions and supports local economies.
  • Use the whole chicken when cooking rather than just chicken breasts or wings. This reduces waste of edible parts.
  • Save chicken fat/drippings to use for cooking. Don’t let any chicken go to waste.
  • Compost the chicken bones, skin, cartilage, and any vegetable scraps for garden enrichment.
  • Freeze extra portions if you can’t use chicken in time. Thaw only what you’ll eat.

Being mindful of Chicken production practices, transportation methods, and use of byproducts allows you to reduce your carbon footprint. This pairs perfectly with safely extending chicken’s shelf life beyond the sell-by date. We can all benefit from less food waste.

Technological Aids: Food Safety Apps and Tools

Technology offers convenient ways to track chicken freshness:

  • Fridge thermometers monitor accurate storage temperatures. Be sure to check thermometer calibration periodically.
  • FoodKeeper app provides guidance on poultry storage times, conditions, and signs of spoilage based on extensive USDA data.
  • Digital food thermometers enable precise temperature measurement during cooking and eliminate guesswork on doneness. Options range from instant-read probes to Bluetooth models.
  • Timer apps help coordinate cooking several items so everything finishes properly without overcooking. Useful for multitasking in the kitchen.
  • Meal planning apps can cut waste by forecasting meals and grocery needs more accurately. Stagger chicken use based on purchase date.
  • Barcode scanners read sell-by information and display guidance on true shelf life. Help weed out misleading dates.

Leverage tools like these along with the traditional senses of sight, smell and touch. Technology aids food safety but doesn’t replace human judgment in the kitchen.

Emergency Preparedness: Keeping Chicken Safe

Chicken requires temperature control and cooking for safety. In certain emergency situations like power outages, take these extra precautions:

  • Keep refrigerator doors closed as much as possible. Use a cooler with ice packs if the outage seems prolonged.
  • Don’t risk eating chicken that exceeded 40°F for over 2 hours. When in doubt, throw it out after a weather emergency.
  • Cook raw chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F after a power outage. Don’t consume partially cooked chicken.
  • Discard any thawed chicken juices and marinades after an outage. Since they sat at room temperature, bacteria could multiply rapidly in them.
  • If cooking isn’t possible, preserve chicken by canning, drying, curing, or smoking. Use an outdoor propane burner if needed.
  • In evacuations, pack raw chicken below ready-to-eat foods and wrap carefully to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Keep your refrigerator set to 40°F or below and freezer at 0°F year-round. This preserves food longer in an unexpected outage.

Being prepared with alternate cooking methods and cold storage allows you to safely rely on frozen or refrigerated chicken even when weather or disasters occur.

Conclusion: How Long Is Chicken Good For After Sell By Date

Chicken can often be enjoyed past its sell-by date, but following proper storage and handling methods is crucial. Keep chicken refrigerated at 40°F or below and cook thoroughly to 165°F internal temperature. Identify signs of spoilage using your senses of smell, sight, and touch. Consider the sell-by date as an initial guideline for freshness rather than a definitive safety cutoff. With smart practices, it’s possible to reduce food waste and safely cook chicken beyond the date on the label. But when in doubt, remember the rule of thumb is to throw it out. I hope this comprehensive guide gave you greater confidence in storing, preparing, and consuming chicken while optimizing freshness and minimizing illness risks. Please share your own experiences and tips related to chicken shelf life and safety.

6 thoughts on “How Long Is Chicken Good For After Sell By Date | Answer Now”

  1. ADHD got the best of me and I forgot when I bought this chicken but I know not longer than a week ago. The sell by date is the 20th and its been in the fridge since, it’s now the 25th.. is it still good to eat?

    • If this is an accidental habit you should get into the habit of freezing your chicken the day that you buy it and then plan when you’re going to use it and defrost the night before. If not planning the entire thing then portion it out in freezer bags.

  2. I have heard so much conflicting information on this. I have heard that it is safe within two days of its sell by date, but then I have heard that you should use it within 2 days of purchase regardless. If you buy chicken on a Sunday and it’s sell by date is Thursday, should you eat it by Tuesday or by Saturday?

  3. Consumers should use or freeze products with a “sell- by” date within 1 or 2 days of purchase. If the manufacturer has determined a “use-by” date, observe it. The use-by date is for quality assurance, after the date, peak quality begins to lessen but the product may still be used.


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