How Long Can You Safely Store Raw Chicken In The Refrigerator?

Whether you're bringing home raw meat from the grocery store, or leaving it to thaw in the fridge after removing it from the freezer, it's important to know just how long that meat can remain in the refrigerator before it's no longer safe for consumption.

Eating contaminated food items — such as those that are raw, spoiled, or undercooked — can increase one's risk for foodbourne illness, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While seafood, fruits, veggies, and dairy can all pose such risks, poultry is among the top offenders — particularly chicken.

Salmonella, campylobacter, and clostridium perfringens are three types of bacteria that can be found in raw chicken. In fact, researchers from a 2011 study published in the Journal of Food Protection found that out of 510 raw chicken samples sold in supermarkets in Ireland, campylobacter bacteria was detected in 84.3% of samples. Salmonella was found in approximately 5% of samples.

Cook or freeze raw chicken after one or two days

If a person ingests these bacterial contaminants, they may experience symptoms of food poisoning, such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and more. In some instances, the consequences can be more severe, including kidney damage, meningitis, and impaired brain or nerve function.

To help reduce one's chances of food poisoning, you won't want to keep raw chicken hanging around for too long. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw chicken stored in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit should be kept for no more than one or two days. If you're unable to cook it within that time, transfer it to the freezer and store it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. You can safely freeze raw chicken in the packaging it came with. However, if it's going to stay in the freezer for more than two months, add another layer of protection by wrapping it in plastic wrap, a freezer bag, or foil.

Can you refreeze raw chicken after thawing it in the fridge?

So we now know what to do when bringing raw chicken home from the store and placing it right in the fridge, but what about refreezing poultry that we took out of the fridge to thaw? If we already froze it once, is it safe to freeze it again?

First, it will depend on how your raw chicken was thawed. If you left it out in the garage, on the counter, or in a shopping bag, this increases the risk of contamination and it may not be safe for consumption, reports the USDA. However, uncooked raw food that has been properly thawed in the refrigerator is safe to refreeze again. Just note that the quality may be affected since it will no longer be as moist. Raw foods that have been pulled from the freezer, thawed, and cooked are also safe to refreeze. As a general rule, food that has been outside the refrigerator for more than two hours should not be refrozen. The same is true for food items that have spent an hour or more in temperatures greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. 

So remember — if you're coming up on two days of raw chicken hanging out in your fridge — here's your friendly reminder to either cook it, freeze it, or refreeze it.