All chickens bought from retail locations are either inspected by the USDA or by a food safety and inspection service to assure consumers they are buying chicken free from visible diseases.
Poultry is considered 'fresh' if it is raw and has never been held below 26°F. Raw poultry has to be labeled as 'frozen' or 'previously frozen' if it has been held at 0°F or below.
Stores may label their chicken with a 'sell by' or 'use by', which is when the quality is considered to have lessened. If the use-by date expires while the chicken is frozen, it can still be used because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
It is important to thaw chicken properly. The recommended ways are: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. It is not recommended to thaw chicken on the counter or other similar locations.
Chicken thawed in the refrigerator can be saved for cooking for one to two days; if it is not used in that time it can be refrozen.
When thawing chicken in cold water, the chicken should be put in an airtight package or leak-proof bag and the water should be kept cold by changing it every 30 minutes. This chicken should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Chicken thawed in the microwave should also be cooked immediately after thawing as some portions of the chicken may have already begun to cook. Foods thawed with this method or the cold-water method should be cooked before refreezing.
Raw chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days or up to a year in the freezer. Cooked chicken can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days or three to four months in the freezer.
For more information, go to www.foodsafety.gov/keep/types/chicken.