Dangerous bacteria can multiply rapidly on perishable food that's left at room temperature for too long. No one wants food poisoning, so keep reading to discover how long chicken will last unrefrigerated.
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How long can chicken stay out of the fridge?
Whether it’s cooked or raw, chicken can sit at room temperature for up to two hours before it should be refrigerated, frozen, or discarded. In warm conditions above 90°F this time reduces to one hour.
Of course, the two-hour safety zone is just a recommendation and various factors will impact that time. Exposure is a good example. Meat should be covered whenever possible to stop contaminated air from contacting food. Placing the lid back on containers or using plastic clingwrap will both do a good job of protecting the chicken and discouraging bacteria growth. This applies to chicken that’s kept at an ambient temperature or chilled.
Temperature also affects how long chicken can stay out. If you’re having an outdoor potluck on a cool day in Maine, then your risk of food poisoning is much less than if you were having the same party in Hawaii. According to the USDA, chicken should be refrigerated at 40°F or lower. Warmer temperatures lead to a higher risk of foodborne sickness.
Can frozen chicken sit out longer than fresh?
Although it may be tempting to leave a frozen chicken on the bench to defrost for half a day, this is not recommended by the USDA. The two-hour safety rule still applies to frozen chicken. The safest option for defrosting is to leave it in the fridge overnight. For larger birds, you may need to allow longer.
If you're in a hurry, a faster method is to submerge the poultry in water. Completely cover the bird to ensure that water doesn't make contact. This will not only encourage bacteria growth but also can affect the texture of the meat. Change the water every 30 minutes for best results.
The quickest way to thaw chicken is to microwave it using the defrost setting. If you choose this option then it is important to cook the meat straight away.
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How long can pre-cooked chicken sit out?
Fully cooked rotisserie chickens and other types of fast food roast chicken should be refrigerated within 2 hours of purchase. The poultry is best sliced into pieces and refrigerated in sealed containers for up to four days. They can also be frozen for up to four months.
How long can stuffed chicken sit out?
The ingredients used to make stuffed chickens are highly perishable and should be treated with special care. If you bought frozen stuffed poultry, then follow the cooking instructions closely. It is essential for some products to be cooked from frozen to ensure safe eating.
Stuff your own chicken just before cooking to keep safe. The risk of foodborne illness is much higher than most other foods.
How long can chicken be refrigerated?
Raw chicken can be safely kept in the fridge for 1-2 days before it should be cooked, frozen, or discarded.
Cooked chicken is less prone to bacteria and will last 3-4 days refrigerated.
Chicken salads have and deli-sliced poultry will last three to five days.
How long can chicken be frozen for?
Chicken, like any food, can be frozen indefinitely without the fear of bacteria growth. However, the meat will start to degrade, losing its flavor and texture at different rates depending on the type of chicken.
A fresh whole chicken can be frozen for up to one year while the legs, breasts, and wings will last nine months. Other products like casseroles, fried chicken, ground chicken, and other types of cooked chicken will usually only last up to four months before losing quality.
Note: the above timeframes are based on a fridge temperature of 40°F or less and a freezer temperature of 0°F. We recommend investing in a suitable thermometer to test that your fridge is cool enough.
9 food safety tips for cooking chicken
- Make sure your chicken sits out in a clean area.
- Always keep cooked meat and other ingredients separate from raw meat.
- At the store, buy your poultry last so that it doesn't spend too much time out of the fridge. Try to go straight home after buying chicken rather than carrying out other errands.
- Transfer chicken to the fridge or freezer as soon as you get home.
- Avoid buying chicken from marketplaces that allow the meat to sit on a counter. Although uncommon in the United States, this is much more prevalent in some other countries.
- Rinsing chicken meat can encourage bacteria growth so try to avoid this practice if you can.
- Use one cutting board for chicken and a separate one for fruit and vegetables.
- When you buy chicken at the store do a quick touch test and make sure it feels cold.
- When in doubt, throw it out.
Whether chicken is cooked or raw, you’ve got a two-hour window to leave the meat out of the fridge. As you approach this timeframe, you’ll do well to refrigerate or freeze it. Chicken that sits out longer than two hours is best tossed out.
You’ll see some articles online talking about doing sight and smell tests to test if the poultry is okay. This is a dangerous game to play. Most of the worst food-borne illnesses like E.Coli are invisible so you can’t rely on visual cues. Instead, stick to time as your best guide.
Got questions about chicken storage? Please let us know in the comments below.