Follow these simple guidelines for safe handling and storage of fresh poultry.
Place poultry in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Poultry that is packaged in supermarket trays can be refrigerated in its original wrapping. Uncooked chicken should be refrigerated promptly after it is purchased and then used within 2 days. Cut-up cooked chicken can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, whole cooked chicken for up to 3 days. If stuffing a whole bird, do not stuff the bird ahead of time and refrigerate it. Instead, add the stuffing just before cooking the bird.
For longer storage, freeze fresh poultry at 0 degrees F or below. For individual poultry pieces or cubed poultry, spread the meat on a tray and freeze until firm. Then transfer to freezer bags. Press out air; seal, label, and freeze. Keep frozen, uncooked whole chickens up to 9 months and no longer than a year. Never freeze stuffed chickens -- the stuffing may not reheat to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Refrigerator thawing is the best way to thaw poultry. Place poultry in freezer wrapping on a tray in your refrigerator. Allow 5 hours of thawing time for every pound of poultry.
Cold-water thawing is another safe way to thaw poultry. Place poultry in its freezer wrapping in a sink or a large bowl of cold water. Allow about 3 minutes of thawing time for every pound of poultry, changing the water every 30 minutes.
Room-temperature thawing is not recommended for poultry or other meats, because bacteria that can cause food poisoning thrive at these warm temperatures.
Get the answers to poultry questions by calling the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hot Line. The toll-free number is 1-800-535-4555. Calls are taken from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. eastern time Monday through Friday.