Chicken is a versatile and delicious protein that is a staple in many households worldwide, with the most being eaten in the United States.
In fact, Americans eat an estimated 8 billion chickens each year, with the average person consuming about a hundred pounds of chicken annually.
Chicken meat is especially popular with homesteaders and backyard keepers.
With that said, improper storage of chicken can lead to foodborne illnesses and spoilage.
About three thousand Americans die from foodborne illnesses yearly, so proper food safety is paramount.
To ensure the safety and quality of your chicken meat, you have to understand and follow proper storage techniques.
In this post, we will explore the simple yet key steps to safely store chicken meat.
But First…Raise or Purchase Good Quality Chicken
Safe chicken storage begins in your backyard, the grocery store, or your local butcher’s locker. Always choose chicken that is fresh and properly packaged.
Look for chicken with a firm texture, pinkish color, and a clean, pleasant odor. Avoid purchasing chicken with damaged packaging, excessive liquid, or an off-putting smell.
When you butcher your chickens, they should immediately go into an ice bath or the refrigerator for at least a day until rigor mortis passes.
This will also age the meat so it is tender and more flavorful. But don’t forget to come back to it!
Chicken is only safe in the refrigerator or an ice bath for about two days. After this, it will need to go in the freezer or be cooked.
How to Store Chicken Meat Safely
Use a Cooler for Transporting Chicken Meat
When you’re bringing chicken home from the store or meat locker, use a cooler bag or insulated container to keep it at a safe temperature.
This prevents the chicken from reaching the temperature danger zone (between 40°F/4°C and 140°F/60°C), where dangerous bacteria multiply rapidly.
Freeze or Refrigerate Chicken Immediately
If you purchased your chicken from the store or a butcher, promptly refrigerate the chicken as soon as you get home.
Store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator, which is typically the back of the bottom shelf.
Keep the chicken in its original packaging if it’s well-sealed; otherwise, transfer it to an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.
Chicken should be stored in a refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C). A refrigerator thermometer can help you monitor and maintain the correct temperature.
Avoid overloading the refrigerator to ensure proper air circulation, which helps maintain consistent temperatures.
Separate The Chicken From Other Foods
To prevent cross-contamination, always keep raw chicken separate from other foods in the refrigerator. Store it on a plate or in a container to catch any drips or leaks.
Ideally, you would keep your chicken on the bottom shelf or drawer of your refrigerator—this keeps it from dripping any raw juices on your other groceries.
It’s essential to avoid contact between raw chicken and ready-to-eat foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and cooked items, to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria like salmonella or e. Coli.
Consider Repackaging Your Chicken
If you plan to store chicken for an extended period, consider repackaging it in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags to prevent freezer burn.
When using the original packaging, make sure it’s tightly sealed to avoid air exposure.
Home-butchered chickens can go into new, food-grade freezer bags, usually vacuum-sealed.
Most people store their home-raised chicken in the freezer, but it can be safely kept in the fridge for up to two days.
Freeze for Long-Term Storage
If you won’t use the chicken within a couple of days, freezing is the best way to extend its shelf life.
To freeze chicken, use a vacuum-sealing system to remove air and prevent freezer burn.
Alternatively, you may place your chicken in a zipped bag and then wrap that bag in freezer paper, often called butcher paper, to stave off the freezer burn. This is a good option if you don’t have a vacuum sealer.
If you intend to use this frozen chicken in two weeks or less, a plain plastic bag is sufficient. You should not experience freezer burn for this length of time.
Remember to label each package with the freezing date to keep track of freshness.
How to Store Chicken Meat Within a Safe Timeframe
The storage time for chicken in the refrigerator depends on whether it is fresh or has been previously frozen.
- Fresh Chicken. Consume or freeze fresh chicken within 1 to 2 days of purchase or butchering.
- Previously Frozen Chicken (in the refrigerator). Consume within 1 to 2 days after thawing.
- Frozen Chicken. Chicken can be safely stored in the freezer for up to 9 months (or longer), depending on the packaging and freezer conditions. As long as the freezer doesn’t accidentally thaw out, the chicken is safe to eat, though the taste, texture, quality, and overall nutritional value may decline after about one year of freezer storage.
Practice Good Hygiene During Storage
When handling chicken, always wash your hands, utensils, and kitchen surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Additionally, avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth, while working with raw chicken.
Safely Thawing Your Stored Chicken Meat
When it’s time to use your frozen chicken, follow safe thawing methods. The best options are:
Refrigerator (best option)
Place the frozen chicken in the refrigerator and allow it to thaw slowly. This method can take several hours or even overnight, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.
Cold water bath
If you need to thaw chicken quickly, place it in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge it in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes.
Cook the chicken immediately after thawing using this method.
Do not place the chicken directly in the water; since this is unsanitary for the rest of your kitchen and increases your chances of dangerous cross-contamination.
You can use the microwave’s defrost function to thaw chicken, but be cautious, as it may partially cook the meat or alter the texture of the meat.
Cook it immediately after microwaving.
How to Store Chicken Meat: Final Thoughts
Safe chicken storage is essential to prevent foodborne illnesses and maintain the quality of this popular protein source.
Following these guidelines ensures that your chicken remains fresh, delicious, and free from harmful bacteria.
Proper storage techniques protect your health and reduce food waste, making them a win-win for both you and your wallet.
So, remember these tips and enjoy your chicken dishes with peace of mind. If you want to learn more about chicken meat, be sure to check these free resources out: