Freeze it before you eat it?
March 9, 2021 10:25 AM   Subscribe

So let's say you have some chicken in your fridge and you let the best-before date sneak up on you. You really want to eat that chicken tomorrow, but there's no way you can eat it today. Should you just leave it in the fridge and cook it one day past the best-before date if it passes the sniff test, or should you freeze it first?

For our purposes, pretend that 'freeze it and eat it in a couple of weeks' is not an option because you REALLY want to have chicken tomorrow, not in a couple of weeks.

Sorry this is a dumb question and I feel like I KNOW the answer has to be 'eat it tomorrow if it smells fine' BUT at the same time the package says 'freeze by the best-before date and thaw completely before cooking'. It feels like 'one day after the best-before date' is a weird grey area. But it would be super dumb to freeze and thaw some chicken within a 24 hour period just to fulfil the mysterious instructions around a 'best before' date that is probably arbitrary to begin with, right?

What would you do with the chicken? Would you do the same thing with other refrigerated, freezable food (ready meals, in particular)? Because this comes up in my refrigerator a lot and it stresses me out.
posted by cilantro to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you cook it today and eat it tomorrow? Cooking it buys you a few days before you need to freeze it.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:30 AM on March 9, 2021 [14 favorites]

Your instincts are right IMO. Best by does not mean it expires on that date. Keep it refrigerated tonight, cook it tomorrow and viola, good eating. Of course, smell it before cooking.

For every food I can think of, I would smell it and then decide and generally cook it. Maybe raw eggs I would toss and start again. Or hard boil them.
posted by AugustWest at 10:30 AM on March 9, 2021 [9 favorites]

Chicken is one of those foods that will tell you pretty easily (by smell) if it's gone bad. If it smells just fine today, it'll most likely be fine tomorrow.

But there's no reason not to freeze it, unless you'd find the defrosting time a pain.
posted by xingcat at 10:30 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I would ABSOLUTELY and without even thinking about it (wouldn't even sniff it more than I normally smell things), just leave it in my fridge one more day and cook it.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:31 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yes, one day isn't going to make or break chicken - if it smells completely fine today, it will be fine tomorrow. But if you're at all worried, you could bake today and eat tomorrow.
posted by coffeecat at 10:45 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

I would definately sniff test and cook tomorrow. *There's been a few times I've made this calculation and subsequently thrown out the meat, so just a heads up that it's not a guarantee at least to my nose.
*this is not did safety advice as much as what I've done and I have not died yet advice
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:54 AM on March 9, 2021

Sometimes in this situation, I’ll cover the chicken in salt, like a salt brine. And the just take off the salt before cooking it.
posted by inevitability at 11:04 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Besides the sniff test, if it's started to feel slimy or sticky, these are both signs you should chuck it that show up before it smells bad.
posted by wwax at 11:06 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Chicken is one of those foods that will tell you pretty easily (by smell) if it's gone bad.

Campylobacter and Salmonella are both found in raw poultry and cannot be detected by scent. Both are killed by heat, so nominally if you cook chicken that's contaminated with it, you're fine. You have an increased chance of the bacteria contaminating your fridge or kitchen, which can lead to you getting an infection on other foods.

Clostridium perfringens will create a foul smell in anaerobic conditions.

Just because raw chicken doesn't smell bad does not mean it's safe.

To OP's question, between your two options, if you want to be as safe as possible, you should freeze it. You're probably fine if you leave it until tomorrow, people cook chicken a day after the best by date all the time and are fine. The best practice is to use it within a few days of purchase, regardless of what the best-by date is, unless it's vacuum sealed, which buys some extra time.
posted by Candleman at 11:08 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

I've been on a year-long accidental experiment in pushing chicken to its absolute limits (trying to time orders right is just not what I'm good at) and I have done all the options.

Chancing one more day is the easiest. If I have more chicken than I'm reasonably going to eat in one day but can probably finish in two days I will move it to a baggie to get it out of the packaging and put a mayo-based marinade over it, which I think keeps it from oxidizing quite so fast plus the salt and bit of sugar make a bit of a preservative.

If you do want to freeze on the off chance that tomorrow is not going to work out as planned I suggest pounding it out so the whole thing is roughly as thin as the thinnest part (usually at the bottom point) - if you put it in a baggie and do this pretty gently (I use an olive oil bottle and a light hand) it won't damage the bag and you can throw that into the freezer and it will thaw evenly. If you're going to do that with more than one piece, layer them with parchment before freezing so you can pull out a piece at a time without them sticking. You can also do the marinade step before freezing and then they're ready to throw into the oven or air fryer to cook from frozen.

We have frozen our Freshly shipments that didn't get eaten fast enough, and they heated back up from frozen in the microwave just fine, so freezable ready-meals should do fairly well. Maybe the texture isn't perfect, but it's edible and the flavor is the same.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:11 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

“Best by” means just that. Not “inedible after”. It’ll taste better if you eat it today, but it’ll be fine if you eat it tomorrow without freezing. Freezing and thawing would make it taste worse.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:15 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've had chicken go bad, according to the sniff test, on or before before its expiration date, so many times, in spite of careful handling and a cold-enough fridge. This means that I think that Ms Vegetable's approach is by far the best one. Cook it today, eat it tomorrow.
posted by chromium at 11:55 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

You can split the difference by tossing it in a marinade/brine today and cooking tomorrow. Which I may have done for at least three days past best-by...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:04 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another thing to keep in mind is the temperature history of the chicken between the store and your house. If your car was relatively chilly and you went straight home from the store, you're safer than if you made several other stops on a warm day before getting the chick into your fridge.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:01 PM on March 9, 2021

I have both cooked and eaten chicken a day after the date on the pack, and thrown away chicken within its date that was off. So, while I'd probably leave it in the fridge, I concur with others that that would be on the basis that there's no guarantee I'm going to get to eat it.
posted by plonkee at 2:23 PM on March 9, 2021

Just to concur I’d expect it to be fine one day past the best by date as long as it’s been kept cold and sealed up.

My approach, as a former chef, is to freeze almost every piece of meat I buy immediately, and defrost as needed, unless I can cook it the day I buy it.
posted by spitbull at 3:29 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

The bottom shelf of the fridge is coldest; if you can't cook it today, store it there.
posted by theora55 at 4:38 PM on March 9, 2021

A lot depends on your fridge and how you set the dial. We just got a pair of bluetooth-enabled data-logging thermometers for the fridge and freezer, and found that we've had the fridge at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The FDA recommendation is to keep it lower than 40 degrees. Oops.

The point being, if you worry about use-by dates on a regular basis, that might be $30 worth spending.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:35 PM on March 9, 2021

The thermometer is sold under the "Govee" brand.
posted by dum spiro spero at 9:42 PM on March 9, 2021

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