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How To Tell If Raw Chicken Is Bad

Chicken is one of the biggest offenders if not the biggest for food-borne illness bacteria. We are going to cover how to tell if chicken is bad in some simple steps.

Thankfully chicken is pretty obvious when it is bad and you will know just by your senses. Looking at, smelling, and feeling it will tell you if it is safe to cook.

Let’s break it down and find out just what to look for before you start cooking your chicken and also what the signs of spoiled cooked chicken look like. These steps go for raw and cooked chicken.

If the chicken has gone bad before you cooked it, cooking it does not make it safe to eat.

Four raw chicken breasts on a dark rustic plate

How to tell if chicken has gone bad is easy when you look and smell your chicken. If the chicken looks discolored it isn’t safe to eat.

Fresh healthy chicken should be light pink in color with some white fat. Gray, yellow or green chicken is not safe to eat.

Chicken should have little to no smell at all at. If you smell a foul odor, sweet, or sour then your chicken has gone bad.

How to tell if raw chicken is bad 4 Steps

The easiest way to tell if the chicken is bad is by looking at it for discoloration, smelling it for foul odor, and feeling it for sliminess.

The first thing you want to do is check the date on the package and make sure that it isn’t expired.

When you are cooking chicken it is important to know what to look for when deciphering if it is spoiled or not. I like to go by the saying, “When in doubt, throw it out!”. Especially when it comes to chicken!

Chicken is one of the most common meats we eat in America and if not handled, cooked, and or stored properly it can make you really sick with food poisoning.

A simple way to know if your chicken has gone bad or not is if you see discoloration.

Raw chicken that has spoiled will turn gray, yellow, or even green in color. If you see any of these color changes then it is safe to say you should not prepare it.

However, if stored properly, seeing slight changes in color can be ok, such as faded pink, or a little darker in some spots. This can be a sign that it just isn’t as fresh but it is still ok to cook.

If you have ground chicken you can find out here how to tell if ground chicken is bad.

1. Look at the chicken

The first thing you want to look for when checking the freshness of raw chicken is its color. It should be light pink in color with some bits of white fat.

A dull pink color can be a sign that it is not as fresh but as long as it doesn’t have a smell and isn’t slimy then it should still be ok. Gray is not a color that you want to see!

Organically grown chicken is going to have a different color than non-organic. It typically has a richer pink color that is not pale like you see in conventionally grown birds.

2. Smell the Chicken

Whether you are sniffing raw or cooked chicken a foul smell is a telltale sign that it has gone bad. Sour, sweet, or any other unpleasant smells are indicators that your chicken has gone bad.

When you open your package of raw chicken let it sit open for a minute and then give it the “sniff test”. Chicken should have little to zero smell at all.

The most common smell of chicken that has spoiled is a sour smell or something like rotten eggs.

Cooked chicken that has gone bad tends be give off more of a sweet smell but can also have a sour smell to it also. Throw it away if you are in any amount of doubt.

3. Feel the chicken

Slimy chicken is never a good sign. If your raw chicken is slimy or sticky then it has spoiled and should not be cooked. You will typically find that if it is slimy then it most likely has a smell to it also and shouldn’t be cooked.

Raw chicken should also be soft and squishy, if it feels tough or hard then it should be thrown away.

The same goes for cooked chicken, slimy is a sign of spoilage and it should be tossed out.

4. Check the expiration date of the chicken

This seems like an obvious tip but did you know that you shouldn’t store fresh chicken in the refrigerator for more than 2-3 days?

According to the USDA, you don’t want to keep chicken in the fridge for more than 2 days. You can freeze chicken for up to 4 months and then once it is completely thawed you have 2 days to use it.

When you buy chicken make sure you always look at the expiration date and make sure it is at least 4-5 days out at the very least. If you do not plan to cook your chicken within the next day or two then you will want to freeze it right away.

Check out my latest chicken recipe here! Grilled Chicken Tacos Recipe, is a crowd-pleaser! That I know what you thought!

How to tell if cooked chicken is bad

Cooked chicken should be light brown and or white in color. If cooked chicken looks grey or green at all then you should discard it as you will likely get sick from eating it.

Always make sure to cook the chicken to a minimum of 165°F and make sure that it gets stored properly. Never leave the chicken out in the “Danger Zone” for longer than two hours.

If the chicken gets under 145°F it has entered the “Danger Zone” and will start to multiply in bacteria and make you sick. Check out my post on How long can cooked chicken sit out for more information.

Make sure to look at the other signs of spoiled chicken if you are still unsure about the way that it looks.

Also if it smells bad then you also know that it is no good and you should not eat it.

Maybe you are serving a vegetarian and are wondering how to tell if tofu is bad, look no further!

Similar to chicken, determining the freshness of lamb is essential. When assessing cooked or raw lamb, watch out for a strong, unpleasant odor, slimy texture, or any discoloration. These signs indicate spoilage and should be taken as a cue to discard the lamb.

How to tell if frozen chicken is bad

It is a lot more difficult to tell if a frozen chicken is bad because it is frozen. You’re going to have to let it thaw to be able to know. Then you’re just going to follow the same guidelines from above for raw and cooked chicken.

After it has been defrosted, use it as soon as possible!

How to properly store chicken

Storing chicken properly not only ensures safety but also preserves the quality and taste of your poultry. Begin by placing fresh chicken in the refrigerator as soon as you get home from the store, ideally at a temperature of 40°F or lower.

If you don’t plan to use it within 1-2 days, freeze the chicken by wrapping it securely in heavy-duty aluminum foil or placing it in a freezer-safe bag or container.

Cooked chicken should be cooled slightly before storing it in an airtight container in the fridge, where it can last for 3-4 days. Remember to always reheat your cooked chicken to at least 165°F before consuming.

Ways to avoid your chicken going bad

  1. Don’t leave the cooked chicken out too long after it has been cooked. It should have enough time to cool and be stored in the refrigerator.
  2. When you purchase your chicken from a grocery store you want to get it to a refrigerator as soon as you can. Transport the chicken in a cooler to your home.
  3. Plan your meals with the idea of cooking the chicken within a few days of purchase!
  4. Prevent washing the chicken and adding bacteria to it.
  5. Be aware of how to tell if meats are bad in general as they each have their own characteristics to look out for.

Frequently asked questions about how to tell if raw chicken is bad

Yes, consuming spoiled chicken can lead to food poisoning, causing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. If you suspect chicken is spoiled, it’s best to discard it to avoid health risks.

Raw chicken should be cooked or frozen within one to two days of purchase for the best quality. After a week, even if there are no signs of spoilage, it’s safer not to consume it due to potential bacterial growth.

No, cooking spoiled chicken doesn’t make it safe to eat. Spoiled chicken can harbor harmful bacteria, and while cooking can kill bacteria, it won’t eliminate the toxins some bacteria produce when the chicken spoils.


Being able to distinguish fresh chicken from spoiled chicken is essential for your health and culinary success.

By closely monitoring changes in the chicken’s color, texture, and smell, you can ensure your meals remain safe and flavorful. When in doubt, remember: it’s always safer to discard any chicken you suspect has gone bad.

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