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The Curious Case of Chicken and Sell-By Dates

  • 4 min read

When it comes to handling food, particularly poultry like chicken, it’s essential to understand the importance of freshness and food safety. As we venture into the realm of sell-by dates, their implications, and specifically, how long chicken remains safe for consumption beyond this date, the central themes are always health and culinary excellence.

Understanding Sell-By Dates

A sell-by date is a guideline provided for stores to know how long they should display a product for sale. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a safety date or an expiration date. Instead, it is a time frame that ensures peak quality of a product. Once the sell-by date on your chicken passes, it doesn’t necessarily mean the poultry has gone bad or isn’t safe to eat.

When Does Chicken Go Bad?

Chicken’s usability after the sell-by date heavily relies on how it was stored. If the chicken was properly refrigerated at or below 40°F (4°C), it should stay healthy to eat for 1-2 days past the sell-by date. However, if the chicken was left out at a temperature higher than 40°F (4°C) for more than 2 hours, bacteria can multiply rapidly, making it unsafe for consumption.

How to Determine Chicken Freshness

A simple glance at the calendar isn’t enough to determine the freshness of chicken. Sensory cues often play a critical role in identifying if the chicken is still fresh and safe to eat:

  1. Color: Fresh chicken should have a pinkish hue. Chicken that has turned grey is likely past its prime.
  2. Smell: Fresh chicken has a mild scent. If the chicken smells sour or unpleasant, it’s probably gone bad.
  3. Texture: If the chicken feels slimy or sticky, even after washing, it’s a sign that it’s spoiled.

Food Safety and Chicken

Food safety is paramount when handling and consuming chicken. One of the leading causes of foodborne illness is the improper handling and cooking of poultry. Here are some safety tips to consider:

  1. Proper Storage: Always store chicken at or below 40°F (4°C). This prevents the growth of bacteria.
  2. Proper Cooking: Chicken should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) to kill any bacteria present.
  3. Prompt Refrigeration: Leftover cooked chicken should be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking. It can be safely consumed 3 to 4 days after.

Preserving Chicken Beyond the Sell-By Date

One way to extend the usability of chicken beyond the sell-by date is by freezing it. If you find that the sell-by date is approaching and you won’t be using the chicken in the next day or two, freezing it can keep it safe for future use. Remember, the quality might slightly degrade, but if properly stored, frozen chicken can be used up to nine months later.

Navigating the world of sell-by dates, particularly with chicken, can be tricky. The sell-by date is a tool for optimal freshness, not necessarily an expiration date. By properly storing and promptly using or freezing your chicken, you can ensure that it’s not only safe to eat but also maintains its flavor and texture. Above all, trust your senses. If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not your chicken is still good, it’s best to play it safe and avoid consumption.