Clean cutting boards, knives, and hands thoroughly when working with raw chicken.

Once you have determined the kind of chicken you wish to buy for your next chicken recipe, check out these important tips on inspecting and purchasing chicken safely and confidently.

  • Check the package for the U.S.D.A. Grade A rating; chicken in most supermarkets should be government inspected. Look for secure, unbroken packaging, as well as a "sell-by" date stamp that indicates the last day the chicken should be sold.
  • Physically inspect the chicken before purchasing. Its skin should be creamy white to deep yellow; meat should never look gray or pasty. Odors could signal spoilage. If you notice a strong, unpleasant odor after opening a package of chicken, leave it open on the counter for a few minutes. Sometimes oxidation takes place inside the package, resulting in a slight but harmless odor. If the odor remains, do not use the chicken. Return it in its original package to the store for a refund.

Having bought your chicken, you need to follow proper procedures for storing and handling it at home. To keep your family safe and healthy, it is important to use good judgment and sound food safety guidelines.

Safe Storage for Chicken

Fresh, raw chicken can be stored in its original wrap for up to two days in the coldest part of the refrigerator. However, freeze chicken immediately if you do not plan to use it within two days after purchasing. You can freeze most chicken in its original packaging safely for up to two months; if you plan to freeze it longer, consider double-wrapping or rewrapping with freezer paper, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap.

Stocking the freezer with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs can be a real timesaver. Divide the chicken into efficient, meal-size portions and package for freezing. These convenient packages defrost and cook quickly and eliminate leftovers.

Airtight packaging is the key to freezing chicken successfully. When freezing whole chickens, remove and rinse giblets (if any) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim away any excess fat from the chicken. Tightly wrap, label, date, and freeze both chicken and giblets in separate freezer-strength plastic, paper, or foil wraps.

Thaw frozen chicken, wrapped, in the refrigerator for best results. Thawing times for frozen chicken can vary depending on how thoroughly frozen the chicken is and whether the chicken is whole or cut up. A general guideline is to allow 24 hours thawing time for a 5-pound whole chicken; allow about 5 hours per pound for thawing chicken pieces. Never thaw chicken on the kitchen counter; this promotes bacterial growth.

Safe Handling

When handling raw chicken, you must keep everything that comes into contact with it clean. Raw chicken should be rinsed and patted dry with paper towels before cooking; cutting boards and knives must be washed in hot sudsy water after using and hands must be scrubbed thoroughly before and after handling.

Why? Raw chicken can harbor harmful salmonella bacteria. If bacteria are transferred to work surfaces, utensils, or hands, they could contaminate other foods, as well as the cooked chicken, and cause food poisoning. With careful handling and proper cooking, this is easily prevented.

Chicken should always be cooked completely before eating. You should never cook chicken partially and then store it to be finished later, since this promotes bacterial growth as well.

Not what you're looking for? Try these:

  • Chicken Recipes: Chicken is a very versatile food that can take on a variety of different flavors and be used in all kinds of dishes. Find some suggestions on our Chicken Recipes page.
  • Preparing Chicken: Learn some basic chicken preparation techniques in this article, including how to stuff a chicken, how to marinate chicken, and more.
  • Cooking Chicken: Cooking chicken can be a bit difficult because it's imperative that the meat is cooked all the way through. Gather helpful tips at HowStuffWorks.
  • Cooking: Learn the ins and outs of some basic cooking techniques in this helpful article.