Is it safe to eat chicken after the use by date? (3 risks)
In this article, we will discuss whether it is safe to eat chicken after the use-by date, what are the risks of eating chicken after the use-by date, when is use-by date chicken is not safe to eat and how to handle chicken to improve its safety.
The use-by dates do not indicate the safety of a product, but rather the best quality of its consumption. Chicken can be safe to eat after its use-by date indication.
Is it safe to eat chicken after the use by date?
Yes, it is safe to eat chicken after the use-by date, unless the chicken is spoiled. The safety of consuming a chicken can be estimated by the use-by date, however, it is not a precise indication of safety, but rather of quality (1).
In this way, a chicken after the use-by date is possibly not as flavourful as a fresh chicken, but this does not mean it is not safe to eat. An unsafe chicken is a spoiled chicken, which is characterised especially by off-odours and off-flavours (2).
What are the risks of chicken after the use-by date?
The risks of eating chicken after the use-by date are summarised in the table below:
|Foodborne infection||Foodborne infections may occur by the consumption of a chicken with a high microbial load of pathogenic microorganisms. The most important pathogens related to chicken meat are Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes (3).||Foodborne infections can cause symptoms such as fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain. In severe cases, it can lead to bloody diarrhoea and dehydration.|
|Foodborne poisoning is possible through the ingestion of toxins produced by microorganisms. Common toxins are the Shiga toxin, produced by Escherichia coli O157:H7 or Shigella in fresh or cooked chicken, and the botulinic toxin, produced by Clostridium botulinum in canned or anaerobically packed chicken (4).||Poisoning can cause vomiting, nausea, and diarrhoea. In severe cases can lead to toxic shock syndrome with high fever. The ingestion of botulinic toxin can lead to blurred vision, weakening of the muscles and death.|
|When chicken is stored for long, the fatty acids suffer oxidation, generating compounds that are toxic and lead to inflammatory diseases. Oxidised lipids are free radicals that cause cell damage.||Oxidised lipids from food sources cause oxidative damage and inflammatory processes in the blood. A higher risk of developing inflammatory diseases, such as artheosclerosis and cancer in the long term can occur by the ingestion of oxidised fats in expired chicken (5).|
Is expired chicken safe to eat when pregnant?
No, expired chicken is not safe to eat when pregnant. Although it can be safe and without any signs of spoilage, expired foods are not recommended when pregnant, as during this lifetime period the immune system is weakened (4).
When pregnant, the best safety practices should be followed concerning food intake and foods that are considered of risk should be avoided. Pregnant women are in general more severely affected by food poisoning and food infections (4).
For instance, an infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes during pregnancy can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, premature labour and infection in the newborn.
When is expired chicken unsafe to eat?
Expired chicken is unsafe to eat when it is spoiled. Spoilage can occur due to microbial activity or as a consequence of enzymatic and chemical reactions (2, 3).
Spoilage in a chicken can be identified by discolouration, such as a greenish or greyish colour, the formation of slime, the production of gas (bloating of the package) and loss of texture of the meat.
Other signs include rancidity and degradation of the proteins, leading to off-flavours and off-odours, such as ammoniacal, sour, oxidised, bitter and putrid.
How to improve the shelf life of expired chicken?
To improve the shelf life of chicken expired, you can (2, 3, 6):
Freeze the chicken: frozen uncooked chicken has a shelf life of 9 to 12 months, while cooked chicken has a shelf life of 3 to 6 months, depending on the cut and the cooking method.
Marinate the chicken: the acids and spices of the marinade sauces are natural antimicrobial agents and may extend the shelf life of fresh uncooked chicken for several days in the refrigerator.
Cook the chicken: when the chicken is cooked to a temperature of 165 °F (74 °C) or above for a sufficient time, there is a significant reduction of the initial microbial load in the meat, which may increase its shelf life when compared to the expired uncooked chicken.
In this article, we discussed whether it is safe to eat chicken after the use-by date, the risks of eating chicken after the use-by date, how to know if chicken is spoiled and how to improve the shelf life of chicken.
I recommend marinating chicken with a marinade sauce made with vinegar, soybean oil, garlic, salt, onions and chilli. This will give the chicken a unique flavour and preserve the expired chicken longer.
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Usda.gov. [cited 2023 Oct 26]. Available from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/food-product-dating
Cerveny J, Meyer JD, Hall PA. Microbiological spoilage of meat and poultry products. Compendium of the microbiological spoilage of foods and beverages. 2009:69-86.
Woods LF, Church PN. Strategies for extending the shelf-life of poultry meat and products. InPoultry Meat Science Symposium Series. Richardson, RL and Mead, GC (eds.). CABI, Publishing, UK 1999 (Vol. 25, pp. 297-312).
Hernández-Cortez C, Palma-Martínez I, Gonzalez-Avila LU, Guerrero-Mandujano A, Solís RC, Castro-Escarpulli G. Food poisoning caused by bacteria (food toxins). Poisoning: From Specific Toxic Agents to Novel Rapid and Simplified Techniques for Analysis. 2017 Dec 20;33.
Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy reviews. 2010 Jul;4(8):118.
Usda.gov. [cited 2023 Oct 26]. Available from: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/poultry/chicken-farm-table