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How to Tell If Chicken Broth Has Gone Bad

These five signs will help you determine if your chicken broth has gone bad or not.

Whether you’re cooking up a chicken soup, braising chicken legs, or baking a casserole dish for dinner, you can hardly go wrong with chicken stock. A carton of this pantry staple can help you add aroma and flavor to any dish and, as an added benefit, has a long shelf life.

Exactly how long that shelf life is boils down to whether you made the chicken broth yourself or bought it from the store:

Homemade chicken broth will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. If you have made more broth than you can use at one time and want to keep it longer, put it in the freezer. Frozen chicken broth stays safe to eat indefinitely, but its aroma and flavor will start to fade away after 6 months.

Store-bought chicken broth is shelf-stable, so you can keep the carton in your pantry or cabinet. Unopened, it will usually keep for 1-2 years from the date of purchase. Opened, it must be stored in the refrigerator and used up after 3-4 days at the latest.

Suppose you kept the chicken broth a little longer than the above recommendations, or you don’t remember when you put it in the fridge (as it often happens).

How can you tell if it’s still good or not?

How to Tell If Chicken Broth Has Gone Bad

Other than the best-by date printed on the packaging, the best way to determine if a carton of chicken broth has gone bad or not is to use your sense of sight, smell, and taste.

Chicken broth that’s gone bad is usually foaming at the top, has a suspiciously sour aroma, and, depending on the amount of spoilage, its flavor is somewhat unpleasant to completely unpalatable.

This is all happening because bacteria—the kind that makes you sick, not the good kind found in yogurt—have begun to feed on the contents of the chicken broth and have grown to dangerous levels in it.

It’s quite simple, really.

Your senses are there to protect you. If the smell of something makes you cringe or the taste makes you say “yuck,” that something has no business being in your stomach.

Contrary to popular belief, reheating or reboiling spoiled broth doesn’t make it safer to eat. Heat does kill the bacteria responsible for spoilage, but it doesn’t eliminate the toxins that they left behind. These toxins are often responsible for food poisoning.

So, if you suspect that the chicken broth in your refrigerator may be spoiled, play it safe and dispose of it immediately so that no one in your household makes the mistake of eating it.

How to Dispose of Spoiled Chicken Broth

To dispose of spoiled chicken broth, chill the broth to separate the fats from the liquids. The fats go in the trash, and the liquids go down the drain. Below, we give detailed instructions on how to achieve this.

Refrigerate the spoiled chicken broth in a sealed jar or pot with the lid on overnight. The chicken fat will solidify and float on top of the liquid so you can easily scoop it out with a spoon the next day.

Once you’ve separated the fat from the liquid, pour the chicken broth down the kitchen sink and run plenty of hot soapy water down the drain just in case, so that grease doesn’t build up in the piping. The solid fat, on the other hand, goes in the trash.

How to Store Chicken Broth

As a general rule of thumb, chicken broth needs to be continuously refrigerated and should never be left out at room temperature for longer than 1-2 hours.

If you made chicken broth at home, cool it by placing the pot in the sink, closing the drain, and filling the sink with enough water to reach 3/4 the height of the pot. Replace the water two to three times in 15-minute intervals until the broth can be poured into a jar and refrigerated.

There are those who store it in a pot, then there those who store it in a jar with the lid shut, and then, there are those who pour it into an airtight food storage container. All of these methods work well; at the end of the day, which one you choose comes down to your preferences.

Why Does Chicken Broth Spoil So Quickly?

The reason for all of this, you ask?

Chicken broth is a perishable food, meaning it spoils quickly—thus becoming unsafe for human consumption—if not refrigerated.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, you shouldn’t leave food out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. At temperatures from 40°F to 140°F, the bacteria in your food not only survive but thrive, doubling in count every 20 minutes.

While you and I refer to this temperature range as “room temperature,” the USDA folks call it “the danger zone,” leaving little to no room for misinterpretation as to exactly how perilous that range is.

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Written by

Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.