How Long is Chicken Good After Sell By Date? The Ultimate Guide

January 31, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Chicken is good for 1 to 2 days after the sell by date as long as it is kept in the refrigerator. If you can’t use the chicken by this time, you will need to freeze it.

I have a bad habit of never planning my meals. This means that I will often buy chicken days before I need to use it. Due to this habit of mine, I had to learn all about sell by dates and whether I could cook chicken after these had passed me by.

In this post, I will tackle how long is chicken good after sell by date and show you the top tips for extending this period even further. Let’s get started!

how long is chicken good after sell by date

How Long Can You Keep Fresh Chicken for After the Sell by Date?

According to the USDA, you can keep raw chicken for 1 to 2 days after its sell by date.

You need to cook the raw chicken within 1 to 2 days of buying the chicken. And, in case you can’t cook chicken within this time period, then you should freeze the chicken immediately.

What is a Sell By Date and How is It Different from a Use by Date?

Now, although you may have heard the term quite often, it is likely that no one really explained what a sell by date is and how it is different from a chicken’s use by date.

Sell by dates are used by stores to know how long they should hold onto a particular food item. It is meant for inventory purposes and doesn’t have anything to do with food safety.

The use by date, on the other hand, gives you the rough shelf life of raw chicken or other food items. This date is technically not an expiration date. However, it is the last day that you can safely cook and eat your raw chicken by.

The use by date is for you – as long as you cook and consume the fresh chicken before this date, you risk of food poisoning goes down quite a bit.

If the chicken does have an expiration date, it is important to pay close attention to it. Never cook or eat chicken past this date as you can end up very sick.

Is the Sell by Date Accurate?

There is a good chance that you spent quite a bit of money on your raw chicken. So, if the chicken is a day or two past the sell by date, you may be wondering if it is actually such a big deal.

Just how important is it to follow the sell by date?

While the sell by date isn’t an expiration date, I would never keep raw poultry for more than 2 days after it.

This is because you don’t know how old that raw chicken is so the risk of food poisoning goes up as well.

To add to this, a bout of food poisoning may not seem too bad for adults. However, small children and seniors are more prone to severe cases. In some instances, they may need to be hospitalized due to dehydration.

As this is not a chance that I like to take, I always pay close attention to the chicken sell by date. And, I will not cook or eat chicken past this point.

How to Extend the Expiration Date of Fresh Raw Chicken?

Does the sell by date and the use by date seem a little too short to you? If so, you can extend the date by cooking the chicken.

Raw Chicken Drumsticks

Once cooked, chicken can last in the fridge for 3 to 4 days before it needs to be eaten. If you will not be eating the cooked chicken within this period, then it must be frozen.

So, if you don’t want to eat the poultry right away, cooking chicken can help to extend the expiration date.

The other option is to freeze raw chicken – this way you can store the raw chicken for much longer.

Can Raw Chicken Go Bad Before the Sell by Date?

As I said, the sell by date is not the expiration date. Despite this, it is possible for a chicken to go bad before it reaches its sell by date.

See, the chicken needs to be kept well below 40 F at all times. At this temperature, it is difficult for bacteria to multiply. In turn, it can’t cause the food to go bad.

However, if the chicken is improperly stored, even during transportation, then the bacteria may begin to multiply at a faster rate. This drastically reduces the shelf life of the chicken.

So, it is possible that you may pick up a chicken at a store that has already begun to go bad.

Tips for Preventing Chicken from Going Bad Before the Sell by Date

Here are some top tricks to follow:

Buy Meat Last of All

If you are going grocery shopping, then make sure to pick up the poultry products last of all. This should be done right before you are headed home and should be the last thing that is thrown into your shopping car.

Store in Insulated Bags

You can find an insulated bag at the store. And although it can seem like a bit of an investment, I would suggest that you make it. These bags are great for maintaining chicken at a cold temperature and preventing it from going bad.

If you live far away or if you are transporting chicken in the summertime, I would suggest placing a few ice packs inside the bag to keep the temperature low.

Put the Chicken Away Immediately

Never leave the chicken out on the countertop – this goes for cooked chicken as well. It should always be kept in the fridge immediately after you come home.

In case you will not be cooking the chicken within the next few days, place the chicken in the freezer instead.

How to Know Chicken Has Gone Bad?

Here is how you can determine if you have spoiled chicken on your hands:

Bad Odor

The easiest way to determine if the chicken has gone bad is to take a whiff of the meat. Spoiled chicken smells bad, sour, or off. Fresh chicken, on the other hand, has almost no smell to it.

Odd Texture

You could also run your finger along the surface of the chicken. Does it slimy to you? Or, perhaps there is some tackiness to it? These are signs that the chicken has gone bad.

Unusual Colors

Fresh raw chicken will be pink. If you notice that it is grey or brown or there are green tinges to it, then this means that the meat has gone bad.

Keep in mind that these signs will not always be there. So, now that you know how long is chicken good for after the sell by date, I would make it a point not to eat chicken past this point.

Raw Chicken with Spices

How to Freeze Chicken?

You can store the chicken in the fridge for up to two days after the sell by date. If you can’t use up the chicken by then, you need to freeze it. Here is how to do that:

Place the chicken in good quality freezer bags. Alternatively, you can also wrap them up in plastic wrap or freezer paper. An airtight container can also be used. Personally, I prefer the bags, though.

If you are using the bags, make sure to squeeze out all the air from the bags after arranging the chicken inside. This prevents freezer burn. Then, seal the bag and place the vacuum sealed chicken in the freezer.

In case you are wrapping the chicken in any other kind of material, make sure to wrap them very tightly.


How long is chicken good for in the freezer?

Now, in the freezer, a whole chicken can be good for up to 1 year. Parts can be kept for up to 9 months before going.

As for the frozen cooked chicken, it is good for up to 4 months.

I don’t like to keep my meat frozen for this long as I do feel that there is a loss in flavor and texture – especially cooked chicken. I typically like to use them up within a couple of months after freezing.

In any case, make sure to mark the date of freezing on the packaging. This will let you know when to use it.

How to Defrost Chicken?

It isn’t just about storing chicken past the sell by date properly. It is also important that you defrost the meat properly too.

The best option is to leave the chicken in the fridge until it is completely defrosted. However, this process can take well over a day.

To speed things up, place the chicken in a bowl with cold water, still in its original packaging. Let the chicken sit there for 30 minutes and then empty out the water. Replenish the cold water in the bowl and repeat this process every half an hour until the chicken is thawed out.

Frozen Chicken Legs

You can’t use this method with cooked chicken. So, you will simply have to keep the chicken in the refrigerator until it is done.

Whatever you do, never leave the raw or cooked chicken out on the countertop for more than an hour. This can lead to food poisoning.

Wrapping It Up

Now you know all about the sell by date and how long is chicken good for after this sell by date. With this information in hand, you can guarantee that you are always on top of the proper food safety protocols!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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