Chicken, turkey, duck and other birds are among the most popular meats in the country, but like any food, there are limits on how long one can keep poultry fresh. Here are some of the basics of keeping your poultry fresher, longer:
When returning home from the grocery store, immediately place fresh raw poultry in a refrigerator that maintains 40 °F or below or freeze poultry immediately at 0 °F or below. Once frozen poultry should be safe almost indefinitely but for the best quality raw whole poultry should be cooked and consumed within 1 year. If you plan on freezing poultry for longer than 2 months, you should wrap the store plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, freezer plastic wrap or freezer bags. Use airtight freezer containers to repackage larger quantities into smaller units. Wrapping properly helps to prevents “freezer burn”, which is drying of the surface of the poultry, resulting in grayish brown leather-like spots. It is the result of air reaching the food surface, freezer-burned portions can be cut away either before or after cooking the poultry.
Remember that after cooking a meat thermometer should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat, breast should be between 170oF to 175oF and thighs should be 180oF to 185oF.
When purchasing fresh poultry it should feel cold to the touch, and it is interesting to note that it is not necessary to wash raw poultry since any bacteria which might be present are destroyed in the cooking process. Unlike most poultry, fresh whole turkey may be stored longer, the USDA has not decided on an exact storage time fresh turkey will keep unopened up to one week but no longer than 2 days past the sell-by date. It must be stored unopened in the coldest part of the refrigerator at all times.
Below are the refrigerator storage (40° F or below) guidelines according to the USDA:
Fresh chicken, giblets or ground chicken – 1 to 2 days.
Cooked poultry, leftovers – 3 to 4 days.
Poultry broth or gravy – 1 to 2 days.
Cooked casseroles, dishes or soup – 3 to 4 days.
Cooked pieces, covered with broth or gravy – 1 to 2 days.
Cooked nuggets or patties – 1 to 2 days.
Fried poultry – 3 to 4 days.
Take-out convenience poultry (rotisserie, fried, etc.) – 3 to 4 days.
Restaurant leftovers, brought immediately home – 3 to 4 days.
Store cooked poultry dinner including gravy – 1 to 2 days.
Chicken salad – 3 to 5 days.
Deli sliced poultry luncheon meat – 3 to 5 days.
Poultry luncheon meat, sealed in package – 2 weeks (but no longer than 1 week after the sell-by date).
Poultry luncheon meat, after opening – 3 to 5 days.
Vacuum packed dinners, commercial brand with USDA seal, unopened 2 weeks – opened 3 to 4 days.
Poultry hotdogs, unopened – 2 weeks (but no longer than 1 week after the sell-by date).
Poultry hotdogs, after opening – 7 days
Canned poultry products – 2 to 5 years in pantry.
Mark Gold has more than 27 years of experience in the Food and Beverage Industry. He has written numerous articles on food and food preservation.