Decoding the Freshness: How Long Can Chicken Last After the Sell-By Date?

How long is chicken good for after its sell-by date?

When it comes to perishable goods like raw chicken, the sell-by date is an important indicator of freshness. While there are other types of dates, such as “use by” dates and “sell by” dates, the “sell by” date is primarily used to assess quality. However, many people are unsure if chicken is safe to eat after the expiration date or if it should be thrown away. In this article, we will examine how long chicken remains good after the sell-by date, the factors that affect its quality, proper storage techniques, and how to determine if it is no longer safe to eat.

Understanding the sell-by date

The expiration date on fresh chicken is primarily for the retailer’s benefit. It helps them determine when to remove the product from the refrigerator and no longer display it for sale. However, consumers can also use the sell-by date as a guideline to determine whether the chicken is safe to eat.
To ensure the freshest chicken, it is recommended that chicken be purchased before or on the expiration date. After the expiration date, the chicken is safe to eat for 1-2 days if properly stored. However, if you do not plan to use it within this time frame, it is best to freeze it. Fresh chicken is of the highest quality until the expiration date and will gradually deteriorate over time. If the chicken is 2 weeks or more past its sell-by date, it is too old to use and should be discarded for safety reasons.
Even if the expiration date passes while the chicken is in your refrigerator, it is still safe to eat if properly stored. Most proteins, including chicken, are labeled with a sell-by date instead of a use-by or expiration date. Sell-by dates indicate the end of a product’s shelf life in the store, while use-by dates indicate the last day the manufacturer guarantees the product’s quality.

Proper storage of raw chicken

Raw chicken requires careful handling and storage due to the risk of bacterial contamination. Here are some guidelines for storing raw chicken to keep it fresh and safe:

Storing raw chicken in the refrigerator

  1. Place chicken in an airtight bag or wrap in food-grade plastic.
  2. Place the chicken in an airtight container with a lid.
  3. Place the airtight container on a tray and place it in the back of the refrigerator where it is coldest. The front of the refrigerator tends to be slightly warmer due to frequent door openings, which can affect the quality of the chicken.
  4. Use chicken within 2 days. It is helpful to date the container to ensure it is used before it spoils.

Keeping the chicken in a rimmed container reduces the risk of juices dripping and making a mess in the refrigerator. Using a covered container prevents the chicken from drying out quickly and extends its shelf life. It also minimizes the chance of the chicken coming in contact with other foods and spreading bacteria or picking up odors from the refrigerator.

Storing raw chicken in the freezer

Since raw chicken should not be stored in the refrigerator for more than 2 days, freezing is the best option for long-term storage. Follow these steps to store raw chicken in the freezer:

  1. Wrap each piece of raw chicken in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.
  2. Place the plastic-wrapped chicken in a freezer-safe bag or wrap in aluminum foil before placing in the bag.
  3. Squeeze all the air out of the bag to extend the shelf life of the chicken.
  4. Date the bag and place it in the freezer.

It’s important to note that household freezers are frequently opened and closed, which can cause temperature fluctuations. For best quality, frozen chicken should be consumed within 3-4 months. Freezer burn can affect the taste, texture and quality of the chicken, so it’s important to use proper packaging techniques to minimize its occurrence.
Smaller pre-cut pieces of chicken, such as strips or chunks, may require a slightly different approach to save time and storage space. Here’s one method for storing small pieces of chicken in the freezer:

  1. Place the pre-cut chicken pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure they do not overlap or touch.
  2. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 45 minutes until the chicken is frozen.
  3. Transfer the individually frozen pieces to a large freezer-safe bag and return to the freezer.

Freezing small pieces of chicken can save time and space. However, it increases the risk of freezer burn and may result in slightly drier chicken. If you have a vacuum sealer, use it for optimal storage. Vacuum-sealed chicken can last up to 5 times longer than regular frozen chicken, with a shelf life of up to 12 months.

Determining the safety of chicken

While the sell-by date is a general guide to the freshness of chicken, it is important to evaluate the safety of chicken before consumption. Here are some indicators to look for:


Inspect the chicken for any noticeable changes in color or texture. Fresh chicken should have a pinkish color, while spoiled chicken may appear gray or yellowish. In addition, slimy or sticky skin is a sign of bacterial growth and indicates that the chicken is no longer safe to eat.


Smell the chicken. Fresh chicken should have a mild, slightly meaty smell. If you detect a sour or ammonia-like odor, this is a sign of spoilage and the chicken should be discarded.


Feel the chicken’s texture. It should be firm and springy to the touch. If the chicken feels excessively soft or mushy, it is a sign of deterioration and should not be eaten.

Expiration Period

Consider the time since the expiration date and storage conditions. If the chicken has been stored properly and is within 1-2 days of the expiration date, it is likely still safe to eat. However, if it has been significantly longer or the storage conditions have not been ideal, it is best to err on the side of caution and discard the chicken.
It is important to note that these indicators are not foolproof and should be used in conjunction with each other. If there is any doubt about the safety of the chicken, it should be discarded to avoid the risk of foodborne illness.


In conclusion, if raw chicken is stored correctly, it can be eaten safely for 1-2 days after the sell-by date. However, its quality will gradually deteriorate over time, so it is best to consume it as soon as possible after purchase. Freezing raw chicken is an excellent way to extend its shelf life, but it is important to follow proper packaging techniques to prevent freezer burn.
When determining the safety of chicken, consider its appearance, odor, texture, and time since the sell-by date. If any of these indicators suggest spoilage or deterioration, it is advisable to discard the chicken to avoid potential health risks.
Remember, while this article provides useful guidelines, it is always important to use your best judgment and prioritize food safety when consuming any perishable item.


Can I eat chicken after the expiration date?

Yes, if stored properly, chicken can be consumed 1-2 days after the expiration date.

What happens if I eat chicken after the expiration date?

Consuming chicken past its sell-by date increases the risk of foodborne illness due to bacterial growth. It is best to throw away chicken that is well past its sell-by date.

Can I freeze chicken after the expiration date?

Yes, if you don’t plan to use the chicken within 1-2 days of the sell-by date, it is recommended that you freeze it to maintain its quality and safety.

How long can I keep chicken in the freezer?

Chicken can be stored in the freezer for 3-4 months without significant loss of quality. Proper packaging techniques, such as removing air and using freezer-safe containers, are essential to prevent freezer burn.

How can I tell if chicken is safe to eat?

Check the appearance, smell, and texture of the chicken. Fresh chicken should have a pinkish color, a mild odor, and a firm texture. If there are significant changes, such as a gray color, unpleasant odor, or mushy texture, it is best to throw it away.

Is it safe to eat chicken that is 2 weeks past its sell-by date?

No, chicken that is 2 weeks or more past its expiration date is considered too old to use and should be discarded due to safety concerns.