You may have found some chicken in the refrigerator and wondered if cooking the chicken will extend the ‘Use By’ date.
So, does cooking chicken extend its use-by date?
Yes. Cooked chicken has a shelf life of three to five days past its use-by date, assuming that you followed proper food safety guidelines and used chicken that wasn’t expired at the time of cooking. You can also freeze the chicken to extend the use-by date.
In this article, we’ve shared everything you need to safely cook chicken and how you can extend the use-by date.
Let’s get started.
What is Use-By Date on Chicken?
There are three different labels you’ll commonly see on meats. A “use-by” date is the butcher’s best guess for how long your chicken will be at its best. That’s conservative because the producer wants you to taste the product when it’s as good as it can be. Another label variation is “best if used before,” which has a similar meaning. A “sell-by” date is for the store’s use, so the staff at the meat shop knows when to remove a package from the display.
In that case, a chicken sell-by date reminds the store staff that its time to remove chicken from the shelves. It won’t tell you whether the chicken is still at its best or has gone bad.
How Does Cooking Chicken Extend Use-By Date?
Cooking kills most microbes present in the chicken, so this could extend or ‘reset’ the microbial activity in the chicken. However, cooking won’t remove toxins produced by some harmful microbes that can make you sick. So if toxins were present in the uncooked chicken, then you’ll also find them in cooked chicken.
Cooking accelerates the degradation of cooked food, causing it to spoil quickly. The general rule for cooked chicken is about 3-4 days in the fridge. Once you cook a chicken, the use-by date no longer applies the same way that it did to the uncooked chicken.
Producers determine expiration dates using microbial activity tests measured against a standard threshold for the chicken meat. Microbial activity is the number of microbes growing in your chicken. The risk of illness caused by harmful microbes increases as their overall count rises. So the use-by or expiration date is not a fixed date upon which the chicken is definitively spoiled. It’s an estimate of when the chicken will reach a risky level of microbial activity that’s considered unsafe to eat by the producers.
In short, this food safety question has no clear answer. There is always some risk, and many other factors besides use-by date can affect overall food safety.
How Can I Tell If I Can Keep Chicken Longer Than The ‘Use By’ Date?
When the chicken has started to spoil, it displays some distinct characteristics. Using touch, sight, and smell, you can easily determine if your chicken has spoiled.
Meat beyond the point of use will have a distinct ‘off’ smell and be slimy to the touch. It will look visually unappetizing, so you won’t want to eat it!
If the chicken is on its’ use by ‘date looks good, and has no foul smell or slimy smell, chances are it’ll be safe to eat for a couple of days.
Can I Eat Cooked Chicken After 5 Days?
Does Freezing Chicken Extend Use-by Date?
Freezing chicken by the use-by date is a good way to preserve it, so it doesn’t go to waste. Keep in mind that chicken has reached its use-by or expiration date doesn’t mean it’s no longer safe to eat. Food waste is a sensitive topic because about 40% of all edible food goes to waste, including discarded food when it’s still good.
The time that chicken can be thawed doesn’t depend on the use-by date.
According to USDA, cooking or freezing chicken within two days of buying is recommended. It’s best to buy the chicken before it reaches the use-by date and refrigerate it immediately afterward.
When thawing chicken, we recommend thawing it in the refrigerator. Do not leave it out over the counter to thaw. When you do that, it becomes a major food safety issue. Chicken should not be left out for more than three hours, or it should enter the bacteria danger zone. If you use the microwave to thaw chicken meat, then you should cook it immediately once it’s thawed.
Tips to Extend Use-By Date of Chicken?
There are simple ways to extend the shelf life of your chicken. One option is to cook the chicken and refrigerate it. Cooked chicken will keep up to four days in the refrigerator, so you’ll have enough time to use it in another meal. You can also freeze the chicken in its packaging or high-quality freezer bags.
The chicken will stay fresh for months in the freezer after its use-by date, especially if you have a vacuum sealer to extract all the air from the freezer bag. Chicken gets freezer-burnt when exposed to air, so extracting the air means you can keep it fresh longer. Depending on the quality of the freezer bags you’ve used, vacuum-sealed chicken might stay fresh for a year or two.
Organic Chicken Labels
In this section, we will inspect the USDA organic seal and similar labels on a package of chicken.
Organic chicken must be both free-ranging and naturally raised. Their feed should also be certified organic, free of GMOs, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers. To qualify, chickens must be brought up within these standards from the first day of their life until slaughter.
The organic label is the most comprehensive because it covers aspects of feed and living conditions. It ensures a better-tasting chicken and implies some scrutiny has been put into how it was fed and raised.
The cage-free label is relevant only for egg-laying hens, which are caged to make egg collection easier. Caging usually doesn’t have any place in raising chickens for meat, but you’ll still find the cage-free label on many poultry products. It sounds more humane and is an advertisement for the practices all poultry producers are employing. According to AMS, cage-free simply means that the chickens could “freely roam an enclosed area.”
Chickens are often raised in sizeable flocks, so when disease strikes, it can quickly become contagious and pass from bird to bird. To control the spread of illness-causing bacteria, producers introduce antibiotic medicines into a flock’s feed rather than isolating the affected animals. Practices like these are considered controversial for numerous reasons, including the concern that residues of these medicines may remain undetected in a chicken’s system by the time it reaches slaughter.
Introducing growth hormones and steroids to poultry feed has been illegal in the United States since 1959. Yet, many poultry producers advertise that their flocks never receive hormones. Simply put, this is another example of producers boasting about practices that are already mandated by law.
If your chicken meat is a day or two pasts the ‘Use by date, and it is not showing spoilage signs, then you can safely cook and consume it.
We hope that you enjoyed reading this guide to extending the shelf-life of your chicken. We’ve put together some frequently asked questions and answers in this section and we invite you to check if you might find any of the information valuable.
Can you cook chicken on the expiry date?
Yes, if your meat is a day or two past its expiry date but shows no spoilage, then you can safely cook it on the expiry date.
Can I eat chicken that expired yesterday?
As a general rule of thumb, chicken typically lasts a day or two past the use-by date, but should be consumed on or before its expiry date for optimal safety.