See Also: Safe Chicken Facts; Chicken Cooking Tips; Don’t Be Chicken Article; Chicken Trivia
CHICKEN SAFETY AND STORAGE
RINSING OR SOAKING CHICKEN
It is not necessary to wash raw chicken. Any bacteria which might be present are destroyed by cooking.
LIQUID IN PACKAGE
Many people think the pink liquid in packaged fresh chicken is blood, but it is mostly water which was absorbed by the chicken during the chilling process. Blood is removed from poultry during slaughter and only a small amount remains in the muscle tissue. An improperly bled chicken would have cherry red skin and is condemned at the plant
Chicken is kept cold during distribution to retail stores to prevent the growth of bacteria and to increase its shelf life. Chicken should feel cold to the touch when purchased. Select fresh chicken just before checking out at the register. Put packages of chicken in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Make the grocery your last stop before going home.
At home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains 40 °F, and use within 1 or 2 days, or freeze at 0 °F. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.
Chicken may be frozen in its original packaging or repackaged. If freezing longer than two months, overwrap the porous store plastic packages packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag. Use these materials or airtight freezer containers to repackage family packs into smaller amounts or freeze the chicken from opened packages.
Proper wrapping prevents "freezer burn," which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the chicken. Heavily freezer-burned products may have to be discarded because they might be too dry or tasteless.
When purchasing fully cooked rotisserie or fast food chicken, be sure it is hot at time of purchase. Use it within two hours or cut it into several pieces and refrigerate in shallow, covered containers. Eat within 3 to 4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F (hot and steaming). It is safe to freeze ready-prepared chicken. For best quality, flavor and texture, use within 4 months.
FSIS recommends three ways to defrost chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Never defrost chicken on the counter or in other locations. It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Boneless chicken breasts will usually defrost overnight. Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer. Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional day or two before cooking. During this time, if chicken defrosted in the refrigerator is not used, it can safely be refrozen without cooking first.
Chicken may be defrosted in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leakproof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. A whole (3 to 4-pound) broiler fryer or package of parts should defrost in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will defrost in an hour or less.
Chicken defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed. Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
Do not cook frozen chicken in the microwave or in a slow cooker. However, chicken can be cooked from the frozen state in the oven or on the stove. The cooking time may be about 50% longer.
The Hotline does not recommend buying retail-stuffed fresh whole chicken because of the highly perishable nature of a previously stuffed item. Consumers should not pre-stuff whole chicken to cook at a later time. Chicken can be stuffed immediately before cooking. Some USDA-inspected frozen stuffed whole poultry MUST be cooked from the frozen state to ensure a safely cooked product. Follow preparation directions on the label.
Chicken may be marinated in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Boil used marinade before brushing on cooked chicken. Discard any uncooked leftover marinade.
Never brown or partially cook chicken to refrigerate and finish cooking later because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed. It is safe to partially pre-cook or microwave chicken immediately before transferring it to the hot grill to finish cooking.
FSIS recommends cooking whole chicken to 165°F as measured in the thigh using a food thermometer. For approximate cooking times SEE COOKING TIPS
STORAGE TIMES FOR CHICKEN PRODUCTS
Since product dates aren't a guide for safe use of a product, how long can the consumer store the food and still use it at top quality? Follow these tips:
* Purchase the product before the date expires.
* Follow handling recommendations on product.
* Keep chicken in its package until using.
* Freeze chicken in its original packaging, overwrap or re-wrap it according to directions in the above section, "How to Handle Chicken Safely".
REFRIGERATOR HOME STORAGE (at 40° F or below) OF CHICKEN PRODUCTS
Fresh Chicken, Giblets or Ground Chicken 1 to 2 days
Cooked Chicken, Leftover 3 to 4 days
Chicken Broth or Gravy 1 to 2 days
Cooked Chicken Casseroles, Dishes or Soup 3 to 4 days
Cooked Chicken Pieces, covered with broth or gravy 1 to 2 days
Cooked Chicken Nuggets, Patties 1 to 2 days
Fried Chicken 3 to 4 days
Take-Out Convenience Chicken (Rotisserie, Fried, etc.) 3 to 4 days
Restaurant Chicken Leftovers, brought immediately home in a "Doggy Bag" 3 to 4 days
Store-cooked Chicken Dinner including gravy 1 to 2 days
Chicken Salad 3 to 5 days
Deli-sliced Chicken Luncheon Meat 3 to 5 days
Chicken Luncheon Meat, sealed in package 2 weeks (but no longer than 1 week after a "sell-by" date)
Chicken Luncheon Meat, after opening 3 to 5 days
Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial brand with USDA seal Unopened 2 weeks Opened 3 to 4 days
Chicken Hotdogs, unopened 2 weeks (but no longer than 1 week after a "sell-by" date)
Chicken Hotdogs, after opening 7 days
Canned Chicken Products 2 to 5 years in pantry
For additional food safety information about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1 (800) 535-4555; for the hearing-impaired (TTY) 1 (800) 256-7072. The Hotline is staffed by food safety experts weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time. Food safety recordings can be heard 24 hours a day using a touch-tone phone.
Information is also available from the FSIS Web site: www.fsis.usda.gov