How to Tell When Raw Chicken Has Gone Bad

Is that chicken in your fridge okay to cook? Here are four things that'll tell you if the chicken is past its prime.

Raw Chicken Marinated and Zested With Lemon
Elise Bauer

You bought a package of chicken breasts with the full intention of making chicken piccata, but life got you off track. Days have passed, and now you’re peeking in the fridge wondering if that chicken is still okay to eat. 

Let's cut right to the chase: If you smell or look at a package of raw chicken and it gives you the willies in a way other raw chicken does not, think twice about using it. 

Bacteria causes spoilage, as I’m sure you know. We’re programmed to worry about salmonella, since salmonella can be present on chicken that looks totally fine. But if you cook chicken to 165°F, it’s safe to eat

So, this isn’t about salmonella, per se. It’s about other bacteria that can cause chicken to smell bed, look weird, and feel gross to the touch. 

Here are 4 things to look for that'll help you determine if that chicken is no longer good to eat:

1. It's significantly past the best-by date.

If you’re unsure if chicken is still okay, the best-by date is a good first place to look. 

The best-by date on a package of food is not a magical deadline by which food goes bad the second it crosses the line. It’s merely a tool. How the chicken was stored at the store and how you’ve stored it at home also comes into play. Chicken past the best-by date can be perfectly fine, and chicken that’s not yet there might be suspect.

However, it’s definitely a solid place to start. You should also ask yourself: how long has the chicken been in your fridge? If you can’t remember, or it’s quite a few days past the best-by date, best to just toss it.

2. The flesh is grey-ish, not pink.

Fresh chicken should have pinkish flesh. The intensity of the pinkness can vary, which is okay. Grey flesh is not okay. Toss it if it’s grey. 

Some color changes are normal for raw chicken. But fading to grey, or darkening of some spots, indicate spoilage.

Woody white patches on raw chicken that’s been frozen and thawed are signs of freezer burn. In this case, it’s safe to eat, but for the best taste, trim away and discard the white parts.

3. It smells rotten or just … off.

Let’s face it, raw chicken does not smell lovely. No one is making raw chicken-scented candles.

But raw chicken should not smell repulsive. A sharp smell of ammonia or a strong rotten egg odor indicate chicken that’s gone off. Get it into the bin!

4. It feels slimy.

Is it normal for chicken to feel slimy? No, it’s not. If you touch the chicken and it’s abnormally slimy, sticky, or tacky, get rid of it. Then wash your hands well.

If you're still not sure, I’d say pitch it and move on, but if you’d like reassurance, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).