Is It Safe To Eat Chicken Past The 'Sell By' Date?

Expiration dates can be confusing. Between "sell by," "best if used before," and "use by" dates, it's not always easy to spot when you should throw in the towel and toss your food out. Some foods, like cans or boxes, even stamp their expiration dates in colors that blend in with the packaging, which can be even more difficult to decode. But while more specialized products might require whipping out your magnifying glass to decipher the sell-by date, foods like chicken luckily have more universal expiration dates. 

Consuming chicken safely is vital, as the FDA states about one in every 25 packages of chicken are contaminated with salmonella, and the CDC reports that approximately 1 million people in the United States get sick from contaminated poultry every year. Yet we want to avoid wasting perfectly good chicken as well, since about 19% of fresh chicken is wasted in the United States every year, according to Statista

According to Healthline, raw chicken is good in the fridge for up to two days and can last in the freezer for up to nine months. But what does that mean for things like the sell-by date? If your chicken is beyond the sell-by date, but within these guidelines is it safe to eat or does that put you at risk for foodborne illnesses?

Sell-by dates don't always line up with FDA recommendations

While chicken packages and the FDA each have clear guidelines for when to buy your chicken and when to consume it, they don't exactly align with each other. The FDA advises consumers to purchase chicken before the sell-by date, but also states that "product guides aren't a guide for safe use of a product," and chicken should be eaten within two days of purchase if it's kept in the refrigerator — no matter what. To be on the safe side, you may want to throw your chicken out if you won't use it within a few days of buying it.

Regardless, it's a good idea to examine your chicken for signs it has gone bad before cooking it, which may include a color change (fresh chicken is light pink, while spoiled chicken may turn gray), an unappealing smell, or slime. And no matter if you're cooking your chicken the day you bought it or a few days later, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit before digging in, per CDC recommendations.

So, can you eat chicken past the sell-by date? It may be safe for an extra day or two, but make sure to check for any signs of spoilage before taking the risk.