how to tell if chicken salad is bad

Are you wondering how to tell if chicken salad is bad? You’re in a hurry and want to grab a quick bite to eat before moving on for the day.

You prepared your favorite chicken salad a few days ago, but now you have to figure out if it has gone bad.

Or, maybe you’re hosting a family gathering and plan to serve your famous chicken salad. It’s easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, and is perfect for feeding a crowd.

You’re running out of time and need to prepare the salad ahead of time so that you have more time the day of your event for other tasks.

You can’t help but wonder, will the chicken salad spoil before the party even gets started?

What are you to do? Ditch the whole meal, and start over?

Absolutely not! If you’re wondering how long is chicken salad good for and how to store your chicken salad properly, don’t stress!

By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to know how long you can keep your chicken salad fresh and safe to eat.

Chicken salad has gone bad if it starts to smell, has discoloration, begins to mold, or has been sitting in the fridge for too long.

How To Tell if Chicken Salad is Bad

spoiled chicken salad

Several types of bacteria cause food to spoil. Some are easily noticeable, and some are not.

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Spoilage bacteria are easier to spot. This type of bacteria causes food to deteriorate, change colors, and develop a strong odor.

It’s why we often see little fuzzies growing on our favorite chicken salad when it stays in the refrigerator for too long. If you see fuzz, throw the chicken salad away immediately.

Pathogenic bacteria don’t affect the taste, smell, or texture of food. Even though this bacteria is harder to see visually, it is the cause of many foodborne illnesses.

Pathogenic bacteria can be dangerous because you can’t physically see this bacteria growing in your food, but your stomach can become upset if eaten.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the cooked chicken will last in the refrigerator for up to four days if kept in an airtight container.

If the container isn’t airtight or you store it without a lid, it’ll go bad quicker.

However, when your chicken salad is mixed together, the storage conditions will determine how long your chicken salad is good for.

Tip: Since the FDA states that cooked chicken is good for up to four days in the fridge, this is a good rule of thumb to go by for chicken salad.

Characteristics of a Bad Salad

ways to tell bad salad

Are you not sure how long chicken salad is good for? There are several ways to tell if this meal has taken a turn for the worse.

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When considering whether you can still eat that chicken salad in your fridge, consider these factors:


The chicken salad will begin to change colors. The vegetables will lose their bright colors, turning shades of brown or gray while the chicken turns yellow, green, or gray.

Moist and Watery:

The chicken salad will begin to show signs of moisture on the bottom of the container. They become sticky, slimy, and fall to pieces as the vegetables wilt.

Strong Odor and Rotten Smell:

The chicken salad will develop a strong odor as the ingredients decompose and lose their nutrients. You will know how to tell if chicken salad is bad if it begins to smell rotten.

Bad Taste:

Sometimes, your chicken salad won’t have any physical signs that it’s started to go bad. When this happens, you’ll probably take a bite of it without thinking anything of it.

If you take a bite and it doesn’t taste good or even a little off, you don’t want to keep eating it.

Tip: If your chicken salad begins to show signs of discoloration, becomes moist and watery, or develops a strong odor, do not eat. Discard immediately.

How To Properly Store Chicken Salad

properly storing of salad

The USDA recommends foods with a high moisture content be kept at temperatures less than 40° to slow the growth of bacteria.

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Bacteria can rapidly grow at temperatures between 40° – 140° F. So, it is essential to store your chicken salad in a refrigerator shortly after preparation.

The moisture content of the chicken and vegetables commonly used in chicken salads provides a prime environment for bacterial growth.

Typically, it will need to be refrigerated in an airtight container within 2 hours of preparation.

However, due to the short shelf life of chicken salad, this time is cut in half if you live in a humid environment.

Chicken salad will last up to three to five days if stored properly. Here are a few ways to keep your chicken salad fresh.

  • Always store the chicken salad in an airtight container.
  • Use a large container or ziplock bag, so the salad is not pressed together.
  • If store-bought, reseal the container (if possible) and place it in the refrigerator.
  • Store cooked chicken separately from other ingredients.
Tip: Never keep chicken salad at room temperature longer than 2 hours, or you run the risk of food-borne illness!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

questions about salad

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about chicken salad.

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Can you freeze chicken salad?

Yes, you can freeze chicken salad. While it’s not common, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. If you plan to freeze it, you’ll want to freeze it immediately after making it.

You cannot freeze it after two hours of preparation because it won’t be good anymore.

Depending on the ingredients used, chicken salad typically does not freeze well. When thawed, the fruits and vegetables will release more water making the salad soggy.

The eggs will become rubbery, and the oils in the mayonnaise will separate. Mostly, the salad will lose its flavor and have a bad taste.

Is store-bought chicken salad still good after the sell-by date?

Store-bought chicken salad often has additives that help length its shelf life. The sell date is required to inform customers how long a chicken salad is good for.

Typically, the chicken salad will last up to 5 days after the sell date if stored properly. Chicken salad needs to be kept at temperatures less than 40° in an airtight container.

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So, you may need to transfer the extra chicken salad to one of your Tupperware to ensure freshness.

How long will homemade chicken salad last in the refrigerator?

Homemade chicken salad should be stored in an airtight container within 2 hours after preparation due to the short shelf life.

If kept at the correct temperatures in a refrigerator, it will usually last between 3-5 days.

Is chicken salad healthy?

Whether something is healthy is relative. Generally, chicken salad is fairly healthy!

Chicken is a lean protein, making it a great choice. Chicken salad can become unhealthy depending on what type of mayonnaise you’re using and how much salt.

Also, how you serve the chicken salad plays a factor. If you’re eating it as is, you’re not adding additional calories.

But, chicken salad on bread or a croissant is delicious but can make it what some would call unhealthy.”

You can use a vegan mayonnaise or lower fat one if you choose, but it’s still a relatively healthy meal or snack, even with full-fat mayonnaise.

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chicken salad

If you’re wondering how to tell if chicken salad is bad, you can tell in several ways.

If there’s mold, it smells, has a bad taste, or it’s been sitting in your fridge for longer than four days, there’s a good chance it’s no longer suitable to eat.

Chicken salad is a tasty meal when you need something quick and fairly healthy.

You can make it ahead of time and let it sit in an airtight container in your fridge for a few days before it goes bad.

Storing your chicken salad correctly ensures that it has the longest shelf life possible and eating it within four days helps make sure you're not wasting this tasty meal.

Hopefully, we’ve been able to answer your questions about chicken salad and the factors that can affect its storage life.

Try mixing up different types of chicken salad with a variety of ingredients, especially if you’re trying to extend its life in the fridge.

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By experimenting with different recipes, you’ll soon find out which ones last longer and which go bad quickly.