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Why the long Use By date on chicken?
October 27, 2008 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I've read that raw chicken should be kept in the refrigerator for only 2 or 3 days before using. So why is the "Use By" date on the chicken sold at my local supermarket 6 days from now?

I know there have been lots of "should I eat this" questions before but can't seem to nail down an answer on this. A quick google search says that chicken shouldn't be kept in the fridge for more than 2 or 3 days tops before using. The USDA site says to use within 1 or 2 days. So why is the "use by" date on most of the chicken I just saw in the supermarket 6 days from now? I always assumed "use by" dates were conservative and that you could normally go past them by a few days. That would mean if I put that raw chicken in my fridge today I could still safely cook it 8 days from now?
posted by gfrobe to Food & Drink (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The use-by date is obviously set at the time of slaughter and packaging, so it is the only reliable guide to go by. It's guaranteed to be X days past slaughter and packaging, where X is a conservative number the industry or USDA has set during which properly stored chicken won't go bad.

Is there a margin of error of a day or two? Yes, but during that period I'd cook it pretty thoroughly to be safe. As indicated here, "Product dating is not required by Federal regulations, but many stores and processors voluntarily date packages of chicken or chicken products. If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date there must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as sell by or use before. The use-by date is for quality assurance; after the date, peak quality begins to lessen but the product may still be used. It's always best to buy a product before the date expires."

Any rule of thumb you might locate via Google about storage time after purchase is bogus, because it doesn't take into account the elapsed time between when it was packaged and when you brought it home. If that period was minimal, you probably have 6 days or so. But if you buy it on the expiration date, "2 or 3 days" is pushing it.
posted by beagle at 10:42 AM on October 27, 2008


USDA tends to be extremely conservative. If you cook foods by their standards, you'll end up with burnt hocky pucks. I'd stick with the day on the package, and just make sure you cook it through like you already do. It should be fine so long as you kept it refrigerated and cook it until its no longer pink in the middle, or when a thermometer says its done (So you don't have to cut it open!). I think 160 for breast meat and 180 for dark meat is ideal, but I'm doing this from memory, and there's carryover on whole birds. I usually refer to Mark Bitman's How to Cook Everything or America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook for cooking temps. Of course, if it tastes acidic and funny, that's likely salmonella, and you should throw it out. But chicken definitely lasts more than 3 days, and I'd trust the use by date.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:45 AM on October 27, 2008


A quick google search says that chicken shouldn't be kept in the fridge for more than 2 or 3 days tops before using. The USDA site says to use within 1 or 2 days.

Well I've never gone by this, I've used chicken that has been in the fridge for twice the length of the longest assessment above and have never got sick. Of course I make sure to cook the chicken thoroughly.
posted by ob at 5:08 PM on October 27, 2008


Sometimes when I buy chicken from the store, it is still partially frozen from its trip across the country or wherever to my market. Perhaps the stores add in some "thawing" time to their expiration dates as well.
posted by puritycontrol at 6:23 PM on October 27, 2008


Note that "best before" and "use by" have differing technical meanings in different countries.
In Au/NZ, Use by indicates the product can be risky with no outward sign of the spoilage after that date. Best before indicates after this date the quality may decline, but any deterioration that could be unsafe is visible/apparent.
Note also some meat is cryovac sealed, which extends its life.
posted by bystander at 12:39 AM on October 28, 2008


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