The chicken is a descendant of the Southeast Asian red jungle fowl first domesticated in India around 2000 B.C. Most of the birds raised for meat in America today are from the Cornish (a British breed) and the White Rock (a breed developed in New England). Broiler-fryers, roasters, stewing/baking hens, capons and Rock Cornish hens are all chickens. The following are definitions for these:
Broiler-fryer -a young, tender chicken about 7 weeks old which weighs 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds when eviscerated. Cook by any method.
Rock Cornish Game Hen - a small broiler-fryer weighing between 1 and 2 pounds. Usually stuffed and roasted whole.
Roaster - an older chicken about 3 to 5 months old which weighs 5 to 7 pounds. It yields more meat per pound than a broiler-fryer. Usually roasted whole.
Capon - Male chickens about 16 weeks to 8 months old which are surgically unsexed. They weigh about 4 to 7 pounds and have generous quantities of tender, light meat. Usually roasted.
Stewing/Baking Hen - a mature laying hen 10 months to 1 1/2 years old. Since the meat is less tender than young chickens, it's best used in moist cooking such as stewing.
Chicken is kept cold during distribution to retail stores to prevent the growth of bacteria and to increase its shelf life. Chicken should feel cold to the touch when purchased. Select fresh chicken just before checking out at the register. Put packages of chicken in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Make the grocery your last stop before going home.
At home, immediately place chicken in a refrigerator that maintains 40 °F, and use within 1 or 2 days, or freeze at 0 °F. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.
Never leave raw or frozen chicken at room temperature. Raw chicken should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator and used within 2 days. Freeze any chicken that won't be used in 2 days. Frozen chicken can be stored in the freezer for up to one year without sacrificing quality.
When thawing frozen chicken do so slowly, ideally in your refrigerator but if in a hurry a cold water bath will be fine. In the refrigerator it will take about 24 hours to thaw a whole roaster chicken and about 2 to 9 hours for cut-up chicken parts.
Chicken may be frozen in its original packaging or repackaged. If freezing longer than two months, over wrap the porous store plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag. Use these materials or airtight freezer containers to repackage family packs into smaller amounts or freeze the chicken from opened packages.
Proper wrapping prevents "freezer burn," which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the chicken. Heavily freezer-burned products may have to be discarded because they might be too dry or tasteless.
When purchasing fully cooked rotisserie or fast food chicken, be sure it is hot at time of purchase. Use it within two hours or cut it into several pieces and refrigerate in shallow, covered containers. Eat within 3 to 4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F (hot and steaming). It is safe to freeze ready-prepared chicken. For best quality, flavor and texture, use within 4 months.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends three ways to defrost chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave. Never defrost chicken on the counter or in other locations.
It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Boneless chicken breasts will usually defrost overnight. Bone-in parts and whole chickens may take 1 to 2 days or longer. Once the raw chicken defrosts, it can be kept in the refrigerator an additional day or two before cooking. During this time, if chicken defrosted in the refrigerator is not used, it can safely be refrozen without cooking first.
Chicken may be defrosted in cold water in its airtight packaging or in a leak proof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to be sure it stays cold. A whole (3 to 4-pound) broiler fryer or package of parts should defrost in 2 to 3 hours. A 1-pound package of boneless breasts will defrost in an hour or less.
Chicken defrosted in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed. Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
Do not cook frozen chicken in the microwave or in a slow cooker. However, chicken can be cooked from the frozen state in the oven or on the stove. The cooking time may be about 50% longer.
Always rinse chickens with cold water (inside and out) then pat dry with paper towels before preparing. To prevent cross contamination thoroughly clean all surfaces, utensils, plates, cutting boards, knives and hands with warm soapy water that have come in contact with raw chicken before they come in contact with any other raw or cooked foods.
Always let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator, even if you only plan on letting it soak for 30 minutes. Do not baste the cooking chicken with marinade you've already used on the raw chicken: either make extra marinade and set aside a portion for basting only, or boil it for 2 to 3 minutes to kill any bacteria that might be present.
Since product dates aren't a guide for safe use of a product, how long can the consumer store the food and still use it at top quality? Follow these tips:
- Purchase the product before the date expires.
- Follow handling recommendations on product.
- Keep chicken in its package until using.
- Freeze chicken in its original packaging, overwrap or re-wrap it according to directions in the above section, "How to Handle Chicken Safely".
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|Refrigerator Home Storage (at 40° F or below) of Chicken Products|
|Product||Refrigerator Storage Times|
|Fresh Chicken, Giblets or Ground Chicken||1 to 2 days|
|Cooked Chicken, Leftover||3 to 4 days|
|Chicken Broth or Gravy||1 to 2 days|
|Cooked Chicken Casseroles, Dishes or Soup||3 to 4 days|
|Cooked Chicken Pieces, covered with broth or gravy||1 to 2 days|
|Cooked Chicken Nuggets, Patties||1 to 2 days|
|Fried Chicken||3 to 4 days|
|Take-Out Convenience Chicken (Rotisserie, Fried, etc.)||3 to 4 days|
|Restaurant Chicken Leftovers, brought immediately home in a "Doggy Bag"||3 to 4 days|
|Store-cooked Chicken Dinner including gravy||1 to 2 days|
|Chicken Salad||3 to 5 days|
|Deli-sliced Chicken Luncheon Meat||3 to 5 days|
|Chicken Luncheon Meat, sealed in package||2 weeks (but no longer than 1 week after a "sell-by" date)|
|Chicken Luncheon Meat, after opening||3 to 5 days|
|Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial brand with USDA seal||Unopened 2 weeks|
Opened 3 to 4 days
|Chicken Hotdogs, unopened||2 weeks (but no longer than 1 week after a "sell-by" date)|
|Chicken Hotdogs, after opening||7 days|
|Canned Chicken Products||2 to 5 years in pantry|
Information gathered from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service
For even more information on the safe handling and preparation of poultry, visit the FSIS