How do I know if my chicken has gone bad?

“When did we get this chicken? you yell at your roommate or partner as you squat deep in front of the fridge. You look over your shoulder, tilt your head, wait for an answer and hear nothing. You hold the container of cooked chicken up to the light, looking at all four corners, before bringing it back to your heart center, opening the lid, and sniffing it. It doesn’t necessarily smell bad, but something is wrong.

“Is it safe to eat this for lunch?” you ask yourself, hoping to avoid having to cook something new on an already busy workday. “What if I shred it and toss it with mayonnaise and celery for a quick chicken salad? Is that okay? What if I shred it and cook it in chicken broth with vegetables and noodles with eggs for a quick soup?”

As you ponder life’s most pressing question – how long does cooked chicken actually last in the fridge? – let’s take a deeper look at the facts.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cooked chicken, whether in its whole form (such as roast chicken) or in pieces, such as chicken breast or thighs, will last three to four days in the refrigerator, or four at six months in the freezer; the longest is if you freeze a chicken dish like chicken soup or coq au vin, rather than chicken pieces. After this time, it’s safe to say that the chicken has probably gone bad and bacteria may begin to grow.

Besides the weather, here are some obvious signs that it is no longer safe to eat cooked chicken: if it has a slimy texture, an obvious pungent odor, or if you remember the chicken was kept in the fridge for longer of a week.

This is a question that our own community has discussed at length:

Community member LeBec F. recommends “keeping meats, fish, and poultry in the back left corner of your refrigerator. [It] has a remarkable impact on extending their shelf life, both before and after cooking.” The back of your refrigerator is always the coldest and safest place for meat, dairy and products; this way, the products will be located farther from the airflow caused by the opening and closing of the refrigerator door. Community member Chef Ono says, “Every time you wear a dish at pasteurization temperature, the clock is reset”, which means that if you prepare a new batch of chicken broth three days after you precook chicken, you gain a few extra days of consumption.

And so you never have to ask yourself the question “When did we have this for dinner? Tuesday? Wednesday?” make a habit of labeling all your food containers. Simply write the item and cook date on a strip of painter’s tape or duct tape and stick it to the container like an industry professional to protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning.