How to tell if frozen chicken is bad

Is this a recurring question in your home: do you think this chicken is still good? 

It’s a somewhat scary question but also very valid. Chicken is one of the biggest carries of salmonella, so it’s important to know if and when your chicken has gone bad, how to prepare it well and how to store it properly. 

Unfortunately, chicken has developed a bad rap and seems to be the leading disease carrying meat. Thankfully, horror stories of chicken making you sick can be avoided.

By the end of this article you will know how to identify not only if your frozen chicken is bad but also if your thawed chicken is questionable.

Handy Supplies When Storing or Cooking Chicken

Has my frozen chicken gone bad?

The thing about frozen meat is that the condition in which it was frozen will be the condition in which it remains. If your freezer is reliable and maintains the correct temperature, your chicken will not change. If your chicken was questionable when you froze it, it will be questionable when you thaw it. Unlike cooking meat, freezing doesn’t kill bacteria, it just makes it ineffective and doesn’t allow it to spread or grow. As soon as you thaw it, the bacteria will still be there. So the real question is was the chicken bad when you froze it?

If your chicken was in tip-top shape when you froze it, it will still be good when you thaw it. The only thing that could happen when freezing is your chicken gets freezer burnt. This doesn’t mean your chicken has gone bad nor is it dangerous in any way, but I would advise cutting the freezer burnt chunks off the chicken before cooking it for a better tasting meal. Try to only keep your chicken in the freezer for 9 to 12 months to avoid freezer burn and optimal quality.

The most important thing with chicken is making sure you thaw it properly and cook it quickly. As I said bacteria will not grow in the freezer, but if you are not thawing and cooking properly it allows a chance for bacteria to grow.

Learn More About Food Storage:

What is the Best Food Saver Machine

What happens if I eat bad chicken?

It is very possible that you could cook and eat bad chicken without getting sick, but you could also become very sick. Food poisoning typically happens between one to two days after eating the contaminated food. If there was something like staph or salmonella present, it could cause you to become seriously ill and have to go to the emergency room. The safest bet when it comes to chicken is if there is any question about whether it’s gone bad to just toss it. I never like the thought of wasting food, but it’s also not worth getting sick over.

Can I eat chicken past the sell by date?

Chicken should be used between one and two days of purchase, this time frame typically takes precedence over the sell-by date. If the sell-by date has passed and your chicken has sat in your fridge past the two day mark, I would consider getting rid of it, unfortunately.

Identifying Bad Chicken

There are three ways you can tell whether or not your chicken has gone bad. They are the smell, color and feel. If any one of these three things is off, your chicken has most likely gone bad and should be thrown away.

If in doubt, smell your chicken! I’ll be honest, the thought of smelling raw meat is not a pleasant one, but it is also a great way to check freshness and whether or not it’s gone bad. Chicken that is no longer good will have a sour or ammonia-like scent. If you are questioning it’s freshness, I always advise treading on the side of caution and throwing it out. There is an exception to the smell rule when it comes to vacuum-sealed chicken, but I will get into that in the following paragraphs.

The other way to determine if chicken has gone bad is by the color. If it is green, this means you should throw it away immediately because there is a good chance bacteria has begun to grow on it. If it is a grey tint, it is also a sign the chicken is no longer good and could be an indicator of bacteria growth. You may even see yellow patches on the fattier parts of the chicken which is another indication it’s gone bad. Fresh chicken is pink with white fat; this is the standard. Green, grey and yellow: throw it out!

The third way to identify whether your chicken has gone bad is by the way it feels. Typically chicken should feel moist but not slimy. If your chicken is slimy, this is an indicator to throw it out. Also, who wants to eat slimy chicken? Yuck!

What if my vacuum sealed chicken smells?

If you’ve ever received vacuum sealed chicken from a delivery service or vacuum sealed chicken yourself, you’ve no doubt experienced an egg-like or sulphur smell when you open it back up. Do not worry, this does not mean the chicken has gone bad. Part of the process of vacuum sealing is removing excess air. When this is done, it can create that rotten egg type smell. If you wait a few minutes or even rinse the chicken off, the smell should dissipate. Keep in mind this is typical of vacuum-sealing all meat, so if you’re really averse to the smell it’s probably not the best route for you.

Safely Preparing Chicken

Whenever you’re dealing with poultry, keep in mind that salmonella is the number two culprit in food borne illnesses at home. Once you’ve determined whether or not your chicken is still good, follow these steps to ensure safety until consumption.

  • Don’t let your chicken sit at room temperature.

    The danger zone or where bacteria can grow is from 40-140° Fahrenheit. This is why you should take your chicken straight from the fridge to the stove or cook directly after thawing.


  • Make sure chicken is cooked to 165° Fahrenheit.

    Always check the internal temperature of the chicken before taking it off the stove or out of the oven with a meat thermometer.

  • Don’t let your cooked chicken sit out longer than 2 hours.

    Make sure to either serve the chicken, or allow it to cool and refrigerate. You have a 2 hour window in order to do this safely.


Wondering about the clear jelly that forms on chicken sometimes, why there are red spots on your cooked chicken or what freezer burn actually looks like? You’re not alone. These are some of the frequently asked questions about the appearance of chicken!

What is that clear jelly on raw chicken?

    • The clear jelly-like substance you will see on chicken and other meats is gelatin. It is simply water and protein that leaches out during the cooking process. It is completely harmless and very normal.

What are the red spots on my cooked chicken?

    • Have you ever noticed red spots on your chicken when you cook it? This typically happens when chicken has been frozen. The freezing and then thawing can cause leaching of bone marrow and is usually most present near joints in the chicken. This isn’t a reason to be worried. It’s not necessarily appetizing but also not dangerous. Just make sure to cook your chicken to the appropriate temperature of 165° Fahrenheit. If you are in need of a meat thermometer, this Lavatools Javelin PRO Duo thermometer is a great option as well as the Homendless brand linked above.

How can I tell if chicken is freezer burnt?

    • Freezer burn is typically pretty easy to spot. Look for white patches where the skin has been dried out due to air exposure. You can easily cut off these chunks and cook your chicken as you normally would.

Other Resources:

Helpful Links

Wrapping Up:

Knowing When Chicken Is No Longer Good

Alright, we have covered the bases of how to identify if your chicken has gone bad. Remember frozen chicken won’t go bad unless it was bad to begin with. By now  you should be prepared to conquer the world of chicken knowing whether or not your poultry is safe to eat. Remember if you’re questioning it, better to toss it out than get sick because let me tell you food poisoning is no joke. Play it safe, evaluate the smell, look and feel of the chicken and if there’s any doubt…. Good-bye chicken! Photo by ViktoriyaPavlova from Pixabay
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