This article was updated on 10th September 2023 for freshness and to incorporate new insights.
Raw chicken is one of the scariest foods out there when it comes to how to store it. But don’t worry. This article will give you the best practices for handling and storing chicken properly after you’ve opened it.
How to store leftover raw chicken in the fridge
To store leftover raw chicken, put it in an airtight container or wrap it in plastic wrap and place it on a low shelf in the coldest part of the fridge (the back) for up to 2 days. The low shelf will prevent unwanted drips.
If the leftover raw chicken has been out at room temperature for over 2 hours, then you need to discard it because it could have developed harmful levels of bacteria.
Pro tip: Always wash your hands after handling raw meat.
The back of the refrigerator is the coldest part, so the best for keeping chicken. Every time you open and close the refrigerator you let warm air in. Therefore, the front of the refrigerator tends to be warmer and you don’t want any raw chicken there!
How to freeze opened raw chicken
If you want to keep the chicken for more than two days, you can freeze it for longer-term storage. Here’s how:
- Wrap each individual chicken breast tightly in plastic wrap.
- Place the plastic-wrapped pieces of chicken into a Ziploc freezer bag. Or you can wrap them again with a layer of foil.
- Squeeze all the air out of the freezer bag.
- Label the bag with the date before putting the chicken in the freezer.
- Use the chicken within 6 months (or 3 months for best quality).
After it’s been opened, freezing raw chicken is the best solution for long-term storage, but you should be aware of certain risks, mainly freezer burn.
Freezer burn is when the chicken becomes dehydrated, dry, and funky tasting due to exposure to cold air. Freezer-burnt food isn’t harmful, but it’s pretty unappetizing. To avoid freezer-burning your chicken, you need to make sure no air can get to it – which is why it’s so important to wrap the chicken tightly. And why I recommend a double barrier.
Another advantage of wrapping each piece of chicken individually is that they won’t get stuck together. Separating frozen chicken can be a real nightmare!
Pro tip: Vacuum sealing your chicken can mean it lasts up to 5 times longer in the freezer. It’s best practice to pre-freeze your chicken before you vacuum seal it. This ensures any harmful bacteria already present is inactive and seals in the juices.
Freezing pre-cut chicken
Chicken strips or chunks require a slightly different approach to freezing than whole pieces.
To freeze pre-cut raw chicken:
- Lay the chicken bits out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet so they’re not touching.
- Place the baking tray flat in the freezer for 30-45 minutes (until the chicken is hard on the outside).
- Once the chicken is semi-frozen, transfer the pieces to a freezer bag.
- Remove as much air from the bag as you can and put it in the freezer.
- Use the chicken within 3 months.
The reason for the pre-freezing step is to make sure all the chicken pieces don’t stick together in one big clump. This way, you’ll be able to keep all the chicken in the same bag, but take out however much you need instead of having to thaw the whole thing.
Smaller cut-up bits of chicken won’t last as long as whole chicken breasts because they’re more susceptible to freezer burn.
How to thaw frozen chicken
When thawing frozen chicken, it’s important to remember to keep it below 40°F. Put another way, stay out of the “danger zone” for bacteria when preparing your poultry. If you defrost chicken at room temperature, you risk bacteria growth.
Three ways to safely defrost frozen chicken:
- Thaw the chicken in the fridge. The chicken will take a while to thaw fully, so this one is best done the night before.
- Thaw the chicken under cold water. You can either leave the chicken under a running cold tap or completely submerge the chicken in a cold water bath. If you go for submerging, you’ll need to change the water every 30 minutes to make sure it remains cold enough. Never use hot water as this can encourage bacteria growth.
- Thaw the chicken in the microwave on the defrost setting. This one is great if you need the chicken in a hurry but you have to be very careful not to start cooking the chicken. Use it as a last resort.
Once the chicken is thawed, you can leave it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to two days. If you spot any small bits of freezer burn on the chicken, you can cut them off before using it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you re-freeze raw chicken once thawed?
You can safely re-freeze raw chicken as long as it was thawed in the fridge, but multiple freeze-thaw cycles will dry the chicken out. Do not re-freeze raw chicken you thawed in the microwave or with cold water.
If you need to re-freeze chicken you thawed outside of the fridge, cook it first to kill any harmful bacteria and then freeze it.
Can I store raw chicken in the fridge if it’s uncovered?
It’s not recommended to store raw chicken uncovered in the fridge. Uncovered chicken will dry out quickly, so has a much shorter shelf life than covered chicken. There’s also more risk of it dripping on other foods, and the chicken can absorb odors from the refrigerator.
So unless you want dry chicken that tastes like last night’s curry – cover it!
Does raw chicken go bad faster once opened?
Yes, raw chicken does go bad faster once you remove it from the packaging. As soon as you open the packaging, you expose the chicken to oxygen. Oxygen fuels bacteria growth, and therefore the bacteria levels will become dangerous sooner.
Keeping the chicken in the fridge slows down this growth long enough to keep the chicken good for a few days. And you can wrap the chicken up in plastic wrap to minimize contact with oxygen in order to prolong the shelf-life.
How can I tell if my chicken has gone bad?
Chicken is one of those foods you really don’t want to eat once it’s gone off. I always do a few quick checks of my chicken before I eat it just to make sure it’s still good. Here are four ways to tell if your chicken has gone bad:
- Consult the expiration date. If the chicken is past its expiration date, you shouldn’t eat it even if it appears fine. Remember, once the chicken is opened, you have 2 days to eat it. This increases to 9 months if you freeze it.
- Give it a sniff. Off chicken will have a sour smell. Trust your instincts. You’ll know if it doesn’t smell normal.
- Check the color of the chicken. Bad chicken will have a grey tinge rather than the bright pink skin you’re used to. Any sign of visible mold is a clear indication the chicken is off.
- Feel the chicken. Off chicken often develops a slimy layer, kind of like it’s covered in snot.
If your chicken fails any one of these tests, then chuck it out. As they say, “if in doubt, throw it out.”
Read Next: How To Make Seasoning Stick To Chicken
How To Store Raw Chicken After Opening
- 1 portion chicken breast
How to store raw chicken in the fridge after opening
- Never leave raw chicken at room temperature for more than 2 hours, store it in the fridge as soon as possible.
- Place the raw chicken in an air-tight Ziploc bag or wrap it in plastic wrap, then put it in an air-tight container. If you don’t have an airtight container you can use a rimmed tray.
- Put the chicken at the back of the refrigerator on the lowest shelf in the fridge.
- Use the chicken within 48 hours (or freeze it).
- Wash you hands after handling the raw meat.
How to freeze raw chicken after opening
- Wrap each piece of raw chicken in plastic wrap. Freezer burn most often occurs when air can penetrate the container. So, make sure you have a nice, tight wrap around the chicken.
- Place the plastic-wrapped pieces of chicken into either a Ziploc freezer bag, which is made with thicker sides. Or you can wrap it again in foil before placing it into the bag.
- Squeeze all the air out of the freezer bag. You want it to get every last bit out. Even if you have to do it a few times, it’ll lengthen your chicken’s storage life.
- Label the bag with the date before putting the chicken in the freezer. This means you can accurately calculate how long the chicken has been in the freezer.