Chicken is a staple meat, which is one of the most delicious, nutritious, and easy to cook foods available. Along with eggs, it forms a vital source of animal-based nutrients in food. Unless you are a vegan, chicken along with eggs will usually be available in your fridge. Chicken is the mass favorite and also the number 1 meat consumed by Americans. Chicken is one food that is available fresh or frozen and is prone to bacterial contamination. That’s why properly storing it is essential; otherwise, it may result in foodborne illness. In this article, we will explain how long does chicken last in the fridge and how to prolong its lifespan.
Typical family grocery visits are once a week, mostly during weekends. Family nutrition and food needs are shopped in one day for the entire week in one go. This is the most practical way of shopping today, which is also very common in today’s families. Food is usually shopped and stocked for an entire week and consumed. It’s normal if we cannot consume all the food by the time the next weekend arrives. And we have some leftovers in the fridge that could not be prepared over the week. So a question arises, how long do we usually have before any food expires its usability date?
Storing raw chicken safely
As per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA, raw chicken has a life of around two days in the fridge. This is regardless of it being whole or in pieces like breasts, thighs, and drumsticks. The timeline to meat expiry starts from the time the chicken is defrosted. So ideally, once defrosted, the chicken will last a maximum of 2 days in a fridge. After this, the chicken will start to become spoilt and will no longer be eatable. Timing is crucial because we hit the grocery store with a plan in mind to cook through the week. But this rarely happens as planned.
If meat is fresh, the timing from farm to home (fridge) is crucial. If it is frozen when purchased, please ensure it does not get defrosted entirely before reaching home. Usually, expiry or best before date is printed on the chicken packaging. However, it helps to ensure it lasts well or longer by ensuring proper storage. You can conveniently store raw chicken in the fridge, provided you know by when it will get spoilt.
Chicken meat constitution
Let’s first understand what constitutes a chicken, which will help us understand how it needs to be stored. Chicken meat consists of cells making up the meat’s proteins, fats, and bones. When the chicken is alive, these cells have a lifetime and are replaced by new cells when old cells die. Thus the process of cell replacement runs as a lifecycle.
However, in raw chicken, the cells cannot be replaced and therefore undergo breakdown. Cells are made of chemical components that deteriorate fast and will spoil the meat. Certain external factors like heat and light will speed up this process even more. Therefore, raw chicken tends to spoil fast if it is not correctly stored or consumed in time.
Raw chicken and the process of spoilt
Raw chicken can get spoilt by a large number of internal and external factors. Prime among those are microorganisms like bacteria and mold. Like any perishable animal meat, bacteria are abundantly found in the atmosphere and also on raw meat. Bacteria can reproduce quickly in the meat in the right conditions and over a period of time if not refrigerated.
Technically, bacteria will multiply at a rapid pace between 40 and 140°F temperatures, which happens when the meat is not refrigerated and also before any cooking occurs. Like bacteria, microorganisms are responsible for breaking down the meat’s protein cells and fat cells, thereby spoiling the chicken. Once this happens, the meat is not safe for human or animal consumption anymore.
Bacteria associated with chicken are Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Campylobacter jejuni.
Where and how the microorganisms infect the meat?
Bacteria can be either present in the flesh of the chicken or the air surrounding it. Mold usually proliferates in warm and moist places. While bacteria grow inside and outside the food, attacking it equally from all sides, mold, on the other hand, will only start growing on the surface, forming visible discolored patches and a slimy surface. Bacteria spoiled food gives off a rotten sour smelling odor, which is very off-putting. Mold will change the taste and texture. A spoilt chicken will not feel firm and raw, will give off a pungent smell, the color will appear pale, and off-color patches will appear and taste awful. All these are a good indication that it’s time to dispose of the meat without thought.
Storing chicken in the fridge
Bacteria grow slower at temperatures below 40°F (4°C). Storing chicken in the fridge in a leak-proof container or sealed bag will help bacterial growth to slow down and prevent the chicken’s juices from leaking.
Juices and liquids from the raw meat must never come into contact with any other food items in the fridge. This way of storing is good for only 1-2 days.
Freezing the chicken
If you want to store the chicken any longer, the best bet is simply freezing all the chicken you have purchased. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria but prevents the bacteria from multiplying and thereby spoiling the meat. Freezing helps the meat retain its biological structure. Bacteria are destroyed only through the process of cooking the meat. Defrost the amount of chicken you will need for cooking while leaving the rest of it in the freezer.
It’s best to store chicken in small individual packages because thawing the entire chicken will reduce the rest of the meat’s life. Ideally, do not refreeze a previously defrosted meat. But it should be okay because you will only have a small amount of meat in the freezer that will usually be consumed over a week or two.
Considering you purchased the chicken frozen and it has not defrosted much, the chicken will be safe indefinitely after freezing. You can leave the unprocessed raw chicken in the fridge for 9months to a year. I am sure none of you will store it that long, but it will give you an idea that freezing chicken is the very safe and best way to keep it. If you are storing chicken meat for a longer duration, ensure you check the quality of chicken once in a while to see if it’s okay. The best bet is to inspect and smell the raw chicken before cooking.
More tips to ensure food hygiene
Besides freezing, the USDA’s Food Safe Families campaign has outlined the following steps to ensure food hygiene.
- Stay Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Keep Separate: Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods.
- Safe Cooking: All poultry cooked to 165°F is safe for consumption.
- Freeze or Chill: Ensure prompt and proper Refrigeration.
I hope this information helps and keeps you and your family’s health safe.