Save The Food: How To Save Your Poultry (Chicken & More)

[ This article is part of our Save The Food series on how to make the most of your food ]

Can you still use your poultry?

  • Poultry is comprised of multiple different animal meats, including chicken, turkey, duck, and others. Chicken is by far the most popular of this group and is the most consumed type of meat in many countries. There are different criteria to determine if you can still use it depending on if it is uncooked / raw or if it's cooked.
  • Uncooked / raw poultry: Many experts recommend relying on your senses to tell if poultry has gone bad. If your poultry has a foul odor, has become discolored, or has developed a slimy, sticky or filmy layer on top then it's time to toss it. The USDA recommends keeping uncooked poultry in your fridge for only 1-2 days, but many consider this guidance to be conservative. Because it is so tough to account for all the different variables in play (how long your poultry was at the supermarket, how long it was unrefrigerated on the way home, how cold your fridge is, etc.) it's impossible to provide a definitive timeframe.
  • Cooked poultry: The signs that cooked poultry is over-the-hill are similar to those of raw poultry, namely they relate to appearance, scent, and texture. Cooked poultry may develop a gray or greenish color, a sour or rotten egg like smell, or a slimy texture. The USDA recommends keeping cooked poultry in the fridge for no more than 3-4 days, but again your senses may be a more reliable gauge.
  • While it's important to minimize your food waste, air on the side of caution with higher risk food items like poultry.
  • Frozen poultry may become freezer burned if not wrapped properly, which is indicated by grayish-brown leathery spots on the poultry. Freezer burn is not a safety issue, but a quality one. Cut away any freezer burned portions of the poultry either before or after cooking. If food is heavily freezer burned it may become too dry or tasteless to enjoy.

How to save poultry

Freezing: Freezing poultry is a great way to extend its shelf life. Freezing does not sterilize food, so you can only freeze poultry that is fresh and still good. Either move the poultry into a freezer bag, or overwrap the porous store plastic packaging with airtight heavy duty foil, plastic wrap, or by placing it inside of a freezer bag. Wrapping the poultry prevents freezer burn. Properly frozen chicken will remain safe indefinitely, although quality will start to deteriorate after several months.


  • Cook or freeze poultry before it displays any of the signs of decay outlined above. Cooking poultry extends its shelf life by a few days, allowing you to incorporate it into any array of other dishes such as pot pie, stir fry, pasta, or quesadillas. If you're unsure if you'll use poultry before it goes bad, cooking it gives you a few extra days of leeway so you don't end up wasting it entirely.
  • Leftover cooked chicken is great for incorporating into a simple fried rice or rice bowl. By combining leftover rice, chicken, and veggies, some spices such as garlic powder and onion powder, and a sauce or two such as soy sauce, teriyaki, or simply hot sauce you can create a delicious meal flavored to your liking. Crack and egg or two into the mixture to make it a true fried rice, or skip it and simply combine the ingredients into a rice bowl. You can customize these basic building blocks in nearly infinite combinations, so have fun and find what you like.

How to prevent poultry from going bad

  • Minimize time poultry spends unrefrigerated by purchasing it at the end of your grocery trip. If you are running multiple errands, go grocery shopping last. If your trip to the grocery store is 30 minutes or more, use a cooler to keep it cold.
  • Refrigerate poultry in its original packaging in the coldest part of the fridge, usually the lowest shelf. This also helps to prevent it from dripping onto other items in case of a spill.
  • Per the above, freeze any poultry you won't be using within 1-2 days of purchasing it.

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