Learn about the shelf life of chicken after the sell-by date, including USDA guidelines, tips for freshness and safety, and how to spot signs of spoilage.

Raw Chicken in Package with Sell By Date or Sell Thru Date with Lemon, Onion, Potatoes, and Rosemary

Have some chicken in your fridge and wondering how long it lasts? You’re not alone—it’s a common question. Many people worry about out-of-date chicken and its safety (we’ve been there, too!). Understanding food dating helps you make informed decisions about consumption and storage.

⇒ The Quick Answer

The sell-by date on chicken indicates when a store should sell the chicken for peak quality. It’s not a safety marker. According to the USDA, you can safely eat chicken 1-2 days past this date if stored properly, but you should always check for signs of spoilage like bad smell or texture changes.

For more detailed information, read on—we’ll explore the safety of consuming chicken beyond the sell-by date, how to identify spoiled chicken, and essential tips for maintaining its freshness and safety.

Package of Raw Chicken with Sell By Date Circled

What does the sell-by date on chicken mean?

The “sell-by” date on chicken is intended for retailers, not consumers, and is simply an indication of the date by which chicken should be sold to ensure peak freshness. According to the USDA, this date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date or an expiration date. 

After the sell-by date, the chicken will eventually start to decline in taste and texture, but it can still be safe to eat (provided it’s been stored properly in the fridge).

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

According to the USDA, fresh chicken is usually good for up to 2 days after the sell-by date, as long as it’s been stored properly in the fridge. However, you should always check for signs of spoilage before consuming. 

Also, keep in mind that how the raw chicken is stored will affect how long it lasts. If removed from its original packaging, be sure to store raw chicken in an airtight container to retain maximum freshness.

Reference Chart – Raw Chicken Freshness Timeline

Use this chart as a general guide. It’s based on the USDA’s recommendation to cook or freeze chicken within 1 to 2 days of purchase. But remember, regardless of timing, always check the chicken for any signs it’s gone bad before use.

Chicken Sell by Date Days Past Date Safety Chart

Chicken Sell-by Date vs. Use-by Date

The sell-by date (sometimes labeled “sell-thru”) is for the store staff to reference the last day the store should sell that chicken. It is not a safety date. It is typically about one to two days after the chicken was packaged.

When it comes to buying chicken, the FDA advises purchasing it before the sell-by date to ensure you’re getting the freshest quality.

A use-by date is added by some poultry producers to indicate the date by which they recommend consuming the product for best quality. This date is typically three to five days after the chicken was packaged.

Package of Raw Chicken with Label (left) Close Up of Label with Sell Thru Date (right)

Is chicken safe to eat after the sell-by date?

Yes, it is perfectly fine to eat chicken past the sell-by date. The USDA recommends cooking chicken or freezing it within 1 to 2 days of purchase. Beyond that, it may still be okay to eat—at your own risk, but be sure to check for signs of spoilage before consuming.

How to tell if chicken is bad

The best way to tell if raw chicken has gone bad is by its appearance, texture, and smell. Here are the top indicators for each.

Signs chicken has gone bad

Appearance – fresh raw chicken should be light pink in color. Spoiled chicken may start to turn gray, yellow, or green.

Texture – fresh raw chicken should look slightly glossy. Chicken that has gone bad may develop a slimy or sticky texture.

Smell – fresh raw chicken should have a very mild smell, or no smell at all. Spoiled chicken will have a foul, sour, or unpleasant smell.

If your chicken shows any of the above signs of spoilage, be sure to toss it.

If it doesn’t show any obvious signs of spoilage, but you’re still not sure your raw chicken is good, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Spoiled chicken can be contaminated with harmful bacteria like salmonella, and cause food poisoning. So when in doubt, play it safe and throw it out!

Raw Chicken on Parchment with Olive Oil, Lemon, Potatoes, and Rosemary

Can you freeze raw chicken?

Yes, raw chicken can be frozen for up to 9 months.

When freezing raw chicken, it’s important to use airtight packaging to prevent freezer burn.

Be sure to use good quality freezer bags and mark the bag, so you know when it was frozen. Vacuum-sealed chicken will last even longer, as vacuum-sealing helps retain nutrients and freshness.

Once thawed, you should cook the chicken within 1 to 2 days. Or, you can cook it directly out of the freezer. Here are some great tips on cooking chicken from frozen.

Can you freeze cooked chicken?

Yes, you can freeze cooked chicken, and it will last in the freezer for up to 4 to 6 months, depending on the cut.

When freezing cooked chicken, be sure to store it in an airtight container or freezer bag. Vacuum-sealing can extend the shelf life even longer. Be sure to label the container with the date to know when it was frozen.

To thaw frozen cooked chicken, simply transfer it to the refrigerator and allow it to thaw overnight. Once thawed, cooked chicken can be reheated in the microwave or oven.

Raw Chicken on Baking Sheet Lined with Parchment Paper and Topped with Rosemary

Sell-by vs. Use-by vs. Best-by Dates on Meat

In the United States, there are no universally mandated requirements for food product dating (except for infant formula). Adding dates to food packaging is voluntary and can vary based on the producer. Because of this practice, dates are often a source of confusion among consumers and can lead to food waste.

Some people believe that they need to strictly abide by these dates or their food will go bad, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, many foods can be eaten well after their “expiration date,” including meat.

Here is a closer look at three commonly used dates on raw meat packaging.

What does the sell-by date on meat mean?

The sell-by date on fresh meat is the date the grocery store references to know the latest day it should be on the shelf for sale. According to the USDA, it is not a safety date. After that date, the quality of the meat may decline, but it is still safe to cook and eat, up to 2 days beyond the sell-by date.

What does the use-by date on meat mean?

The use-by date is the last date that the producer recommends eating the meat. After that date, it may not be of the best quality, but it still may be okay to cook and eat.

What does the best-by date on meat mean?

The best-before date is a voluntary date set by the producer. It is not a food safety issue, but it is an indication of when the quality of food products may begin to decline.

Related Questions

Here are common questions related to poultry and meat packaging dates.

How long does chicken last in the fridge?

When stored properly, raw chicken typically lasts in the fridge for up to 2 days past the sell-by date. If you want to extend its shelf life, you can store it in the freezer for up to 9 months.

Cooked chicken will last 3 to 4 days in the fridge or up to 4 to 6 months in the freezer.

Can you eat chicken 3 days after the sell-by date?

The USDA recommends cooking chicken or freezing it within 1 to 2 days of purchase. However, provided that the chicken does not show signs of spoilage, it should be still be safe to consume 3 days beyond the sell-by date. (See how to tell if chicken is bad.)

Can I eat chicken 4 days after the sell-by date?

While it is recommended that raw chicken is cooked or frozen with 1 to 2 days of purchase, it may still be safe to eat beyond that date. Use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to cook and eat chicken at that point. If the chicken looks and smells fresh, it is probably safe. However, if there are any signs of spoilage or you are unsure, it is best to err on the side of caution and throw it away. (See how to tell if chicken is bad.)

Can I eat chicken 5 days after the sell-by date?

In most cases, chicken that is 5 days past the sell-by date should be tossed. Even with proper storage in the fridge, raw poultry will eventually start to grow bacteria that can result in food poisoning, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Can I cook chicken two weeks after the sell-by date?

The USDA recommends that raw chicken be cooked or frozen within 1 to 2 days of purchase. Because 2 weeks is well beyond that recommendation, and due to the likelihood of chicken developing harmful bacteria by that point, we recommend throwing it out.

Raw Chicken on Baking Sheet Lined with Parchment and Topped with Peppercorns and Rosemary


So there you have it! That’s everything you need to know about raw chicken, its sell-by date, and other packaging dates. Be sure to follow the guidelines above to ensure your raw chicken is safe to cook and eat. And if you’re ever unsure whether your chicken has gone bad, remember: when in doubt, throw it out!

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