How to Store Chicken

When it comes to storing chicken, the key objectives are maintaining freshness and preventing bacterial growth.

As a versatile and popular source of protein, chicken can be kept both in the fridge and the freezer, depending on when you plan to use it.

Proper storage is not just a matter of food quality, but also of food safety, as chicken is highly perishable and can harbor bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Raw chicken stored in airtight container in refrigerator. Separate from other items to prevent cross-contamination. Label with date for freshness

Refrigerating chicken should be done at or below 40°F (4°C) to inhibit bacterial growth.

It’s best to store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator, which is typically the back.

To avoid cross-contamination, keep raw chicken separate from other foods and in a leak-proof container. This prevents drippings from contaminating produce or ready-to-eat food.

Freezing chicken extends its shelf life considerably.

Wrap it tightly in suitable material—like plastic wrap or aluminum foil—or place it in a ziplock freezer bag to prevent freezer burn.

When done correctly, chicken can remain at its best quality in the freezer for around six months.

Always label your chicken with the storage date to help keep track of its freshness and ensure it’s used within a safe timeframe.

Understanding Chicken Storage

Proper chicken storage is a critical aspect of food safety. It’s essential to handle both raw and cooked chicken correctly to minimize the risk of bacterial growth and foodborne illnesses.

Food Safety Basics

When storing chicken, you must create an environment that inhibits bacterial growth.

Bacteria thrive in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F, so it’s crucial to store chicken at safe temperatures.

Always refrigerate or freeze your chicken promptly.

To prevent cross-contamination, store raw chicken separately from ready-to-eat foods and use separate cutting boards and utensils.

Raw Chicken Specifics

Raw chicken should be stored in your refrigerator at 40°F or below or in your freezer at 0°F or below. Use the following guidelines to ensure quality and safety:

Refrigeration TimeFreezing Time
1-2 days (best quality)9-12 months (whole chicken)
6-9 months (parts of chicken)

Note: When handling raw chicken, wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Characteristics of Fresh Chicken

To assess fresh chicken, use both sight and smell:

  • Fresh chicken has a pale pink hue and little to no odor.
  • If the chicken has a gray color or a sour smell, it may indicate spoilage and should not be consumed.

Being mindful of these characteristics can help you determine if the chicken is safe to cook and consume.

Preparation for Storing Chicken

Cleaning and Handling

Prior to storing chicken, it is critical to prepare it in a way that ensures safety and maintains quality. This involves proper cleaning, handling, packaging, and labeling.

Before storing your chicken, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Clean all surfaces and utensils that will touch the raw chicken with hot, soapy water.

When handling chicken, use different cutting boards for raw meat and other foods to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Portioning and Packaging

To store chicken effectively, portion it according to your future meal plans. This can prevent unnecessary thawing of additional chicken that you won’t use immediately.

Portioning and packaging each piece individually allows for easier thawing and cooking.

Wrap your chicken portions tightly in plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or place them in parchment paper before putting them in airtight bags.

For the best protection against freezer burn and bacterial growth, consider vacuum sealing your chicken.

Labeling and Dating

Once your chicken is packaged, clearly label each container or bag with the contents and the expiration date.

This helps you to keep track of how long the chicken has been in storage and ensures you use it while it is still safe and fresh.

To minimize waste and maintain food safety, always aim to consume or freeze fresh chicken within 1-2 days of purchase.

Refrigeration of Chicken

Proper refrigeration is essential to maintaining the quality and safety of your chicken. Ensuring the correct temperature and storage location within your fridge will reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and maintain the chicken’s freshness.

Fridge Storage Tips

Temperature Management:

Always keep your refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C). This is the ideal temperature to slow down bacterial growth and reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Use a refrigerator thermometer to monitor the temperature, as the built-in gauge might not always be accurate.

  • Packaging:

Wrap chicken in airtight packaging, such as zip-top bags, plastic wrap, or use sealed containers, to protect it from exposure to air. This helps to maintain its flavor and texture.

  • Separation:

Keep chicken separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination. Use designated containers or areas for storing raw chicken.

  • Air Circulation:

Do not overload your refrigerator. Good air circulation is critical for maintaining a consistent temperature throughout.

Bottom Shelf Strategy

Location Is Key:

Store your chicken on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. This prevents raw juices from dripping onto other foods, which could lead to cross-contamination.

Organize Wisely:

  • Raw Chicken:

Place raw chicken in a sealed container or on a plate to catch any leaks.

  • Cooked Chicken:

Cool cooked chicken promptly before refrigerating to limit bacterial growth.

Place it in airtight containers and on the bottom shelf as well, preferring the back where it’s coolest.

Freezing Chicken

When freezing chicken, it is essential to ensure proper packaging and temperature control to maintain the quality and safety of the meat. The right techniques can extend the shelf life of your chicken to about 6 months.

Long-Term Freezing

For long-term storage, your freezer temperature should remain constant at 0°F or below.

Use freezer bags, foil, or airtight containers to minimize exposure to air.

When using freezer bags, press out as much air as possible before sealing. For additional protection, wrap the packaged chicken in foil.

Label each package with the freezing date to keep track of how long it has been stored.

Preventing Freezer Burn

To minimize freezer burn, which is the dehydration of the meat due to air exposure, use vacuum-sealing. This method removes all the air, preserving the chicken’s moisture.

If you’re freezing cooked chicken, ensure it’s completely cooled before you package it to preserve texture and flavor.

Defrosting and Reusing Chicken

Properly defrosting and managing the reuse of chicken helps in minimizing waste and ensuring food safety. It’s vital to follow the correct thawing methods to retain the quality and safety of the chicken for later use.

Safe Thawing Methods

Refrigerator Thawing:

  • Place your chicken in a container to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Thaw on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator for at least 24 hours or until completely defrosted.

Cold Water Bath:

  • Submerge your sealed chicken in a bowl of cold water.
  • Change the water every 30 minutes to maintain a safe temperature.
  • A 1-pound package may take up to an hour to thaw, while larger portions could require several hours.

Microwave Thawing:

  • Use the defrost setting on your microwave for a quick thaw.
  • Be sure to cook the chicken immediately after thawing to prevent bacterial growth.

Refreezing Chicken

Raw Chicken:

  • Raw chicken can be refrozen if it was thawed in the refrigerator and has not been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Cooked Chicken:

  • Ensure your leftover chicken is cooled rapidly before refreezing.
  • Safely refreeze within a 3-4 day period after cooking, provided it was stored correctly in the fridge.

Cooking and Usage Tips

When preparing chicken, the process from refrigerator to cooking, along with marinating and seasoning, is crucial for infusing flavor and ensuring safety.

From Refrigerator to Cooking

Before cooking, bring your chicken to near room temperature to ensure even cooking. This is especially important for thicker cuts like chicken breasts to avoid a cooked exterior with a raw center.

However, limit this tempering time to no more than 20 minutes to maintain food safety. Here’s a brief guide on how to handle chicken from the fridge:

  • Chicken Breasts: Let sit for 10-20 minutes before cooking.
  • Family Pack: If cooking in batches, only take out what you can cook immediately.

Marinating and Seasoning

Marinating can significantly enhance the chicken’s flavor, especially if you plan to grill or bake it.

For the best results, marinate your chicken for at least 30 minutes or overnight for more depth of flavor. Always marinate chicken in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth. Here’s a rapid breakdown of the marinating process:

  • Marinating Time:
    • Short Marinate: 30 minutes for a quick flavor boost.
    • Long Marinate: Up to 24 hours for maximum flavor penetration.
  • Seasoning Tips:
    • Before Cooking: Pat chicken dry and generously season.
    • During Cooking: Apply additional seasoning or basting sauce as needed.

Remember, whether you’re baking, grilling, or enlivening your chicken with a savory marinate, proper handling and seasoning will make all the difference in your final dish.

Special Considerations

Raw chicken stored in a refrigerator on a lower shelf, in a sealed container to prevent cross-contamination

When dealing with chicken, special considerations are necessary to maintain food safety, especially when handling leftovers and preventing contamination. Careful practices are required not only during cooking but also before and after.

Handling Leftovers

After you’ve enjoyed your meal, promptly store leftover chicken in the refrigerator.

Use airtight containers to keep the chicken separate from other foods, and label the containers with the date.

Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, as warm air accelerates the growth of bacteria.

When it’s time to reheat, ensure the chicken is heated to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to eliminate any bacterial presence.

Preventing Contamination

Cross-contamination is a critical concern when storing raw chicken. To avoid this:

  • Use separate cutting boards: Designate one for raw chicken and another for other ingredients.
  • Clean surfaces: After preparing chicken, clean countertops and cutting boards with hot soapy water, then disinfect.
  • Practice good hygiene: Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling chicken.
  • Keep raw chicken sealed and on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent drips onto other foods.

Frequently Asked Questions

A refrigerator with raw chicken wrapped in plastic and placed on the bottom shelf. A freezer with frozen chicken stored in sealed containers

In this section, you’ll find clear answers to common concerns about storing chicken, ensuring your safety and maintaining the quality of your poultry.

How long can you keep cooked chicken in the refrigerator before it spoils?

You can store cooked chicken in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. For optimal freshness, keep it in a tight-sealing container or wrapped securely to minimize exposure to air.

What is the best method to wrap chicken breasts for freezer storage?

For freezing chicken breasts, wrap each breast separately in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and then place them in a freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible before sealing to protect against freezer burn.

Is there a difference in storage guidelines for fresh versus frozen chicken?

Yes, fresh chicken should be cooked or frozen within 1-2 days of purchase.

Frozen chicken, if kept at a steady 0°F (-18°C), can be safe indefinitely, but for best quality, use within 9 months for pieces and 1 year for a whole chicken.

What are the food safety considerations when storing raw chicken?

Store raw chicken at the back of the refrigerator where it’s coldest, and use it within 1-2 days. Always keep it separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.

How can you tell if chicken has gone bad in the fridge?

Spoiled chicken may have a sour smell, slimy texture, and a dull color. If there are signs of spoilage or if it’s been stored longer than the recommended time, discard it.

What’s the maximum amount of time you can safely store raw chicken after purchasing?

Raw chicken should be refrigerated and used within 2 days of purchase. If you need to store it longer, freeze it immediately to keep it safe for future use.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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