How long is chicken good for after sell by date? Is it expired?

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Like my post about how long is Spam good for opened and refrigerated, I came across another very specific food situation that I needed the internet’s help with.

I recently bought some raw chicken from Trader Joe’s before leaving for a week’s vacation.

When I got home and was looking to cook something for dinner, I saw that the pack of unopened chicken was still in the refrigerator. With fear of salmonella and illness, I looked for an indication of whether the chicken was still good to cook and eat, I saw that the chicken had a sell-by-date of October 3rd — that was four days ago (It’s October 7), but what did that mean?

I knew that “Sell By” doesn’t mean I needed to throw it out immediately, but was the chicken still safe to eat four days after that date?

Sell by Date vs. Expiration Date

The sell-by-date is different than the expiration date. The sell-by-date is an reminder to the grocer/retailer to take it off the shelves, but that doesn’t mean the chicken is expired or bad, it just means it’s not as fresh anymore.

sell by date on chicken

Most stores take extra precautions when it comes to food. Considering a $3.42 pack of Perdue chicken could ultimately cost not only the seller, but the producer, hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits if something happen.

So they’re better safe than sorry. Much like when a doctor will tell you your recovery time is three weeks, it’s probably more like two — just so you’re not pushing it too early and to cover their backsides from a potential lawsuit.

I see the ‘Sell By Date’ as a indicator of the Chicken’s quality based on time.

How long is chicken good for after sell by date?

SOOOOOO… with all that information in hand, how long is chicken good for after sell by date? How long is the chicken safe?

Officially, the FDA conservatively says that fresh poultry (Chicken or turkey) when refrigerated is good for 1 or 2 days after the sell by date. Nine months when frozen. That said, their table also states:

These short but safe time limits will help keep refrigerated food 40° F (4° C) from spoiling or becoming dangerous.

chicken sell by date vs use by date what do they mean?Of course these are just conservative guidelines. Every situation is a little bit different.

Most sites repeat the FDA’s guidelines that refrigerated chicken is good for 2-3 days after the sell-by date, but many food sites and forums call out that the sell-by date is a strong suggestion and take matters in their experienced hands: Check out what they have to say on chowhound, Still Tasty, SpoonfuleHow, Global Post, Yahoo Answers,

The bottom line from all the online research? A good rule of thumb is to always smell and touch the chicken, whether it’s one day past its sell-date, one week past, or more, if the chicken at all smells “off” or is slimy then don’t risk it. Throw it out.

If you’re within a reasonable timerange and you’ve stored your chicken in the refrigerator properly and your comfortable with cooking chicken properly, you should be fine.


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  1. avatar
    J Yates says:

    I have frozen chicken with an expired date of Dec 15th I thawed it out 2 days ago, Jan 6th, 4 hours on the counter at room temperature and then refrigerated for the next day and a half. We are now wondering if it is still safe to eat or for that matter even boil it and feed our dog.

    While you mentioned the expired date, you didn’t mention a full process of how some people may do their thawing process and whether it is a good idea to thaw by leaving it at room temperature or not and mention what the room temperature may be.

  2. avatar
    Niki says:

    I had chicken breasts that were sell by 1/10 and totally forgot about them in the fridge until 1/14. Decided to take the chance since the chicken smelled and looked totally fine and I hate to throw food away. We did not get sick!

  3. avatar
    T.J. says:

    J Yates… Don’t thaw meat on the counter, ever. It is dangerous. I’ve had good poisoning from restaurants 2 times. It was 2 times too many. It is so bad, you may end up hospitalized as I was or even worse.

    Not to lecture but… Why would you thaw it in the counter, then ‘re-cool it in the fridge for days more. You should have just thawed it in the fridge and it would be good there for 2 days after being thawed.

  4. avatar
    Donna Lindsay says:

    My food is delivered. Got chick. thighs. I have been bit ill so didn’t worry about a day or two to prepare for freezing pieces. I then saw “sell by 3/10 or freeze by 3/10”!! I got it late afternoon from truck 3/10! I am still “icky” so I put it in freezer so as to see if it’s safe. I was poisoned THREE times last year! No fun. I’ve never had any meat brought in same day to eat or freeze, and it was a very large amount of thighs!! After last year I’m skittish, but that cost about $9, and I don’t have much income. What shall I do?

  5. avatar
    rajesh says:

    i bought chicken drumsticks and breast from a open merket with no “sell-by” “use-by” or expiry, of course from a reputed store of green chick on 20/04/2017 and stored in freezer, now for how long i can preserve it.

  6. avatar
    bill Smith says:

    My Uncle died two days after eating some expired Chicken,,……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..He was hit by a bus

  7. avatar
    Lois G DE Boer says:

    I have chicken thighs that I purchased 4 days ago. forgot them in fridge . Sell by date is 8-12 and today is the 13th, they are a little smelly.but look fine I’m choosing to chuck them… $10,00 worth of meat . What should I do ?

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