Homemade chicken salad is the perfect choice for summer picnics and family get-togethers. But, after everyone's had their fill, it's not always easy to get rid of that extra half pound of poultry, mayo, red onion, and celery. And, no matter how you're storing it, you'll want to know how long it keeps and how to tell fresh chicken salad from spoiled.
So how long is chicken salad good for? The short answer is three to five days when kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator. However, several factors can affect this timeframe, and you should consider them before taking your first bite.
Table of Contents
How to Properly Store Chicken Salad
There are multiple ways to store chicken salad, and each one affects how long the dish is good for. However, with proper technique and attention to detail, you can maximize the lifespan of your chicken salad.
In the Fridge
As mentioned above, chicken salad keeps for three to five days when kept in a sealed container in the fridge. To maximize this time, you'll want to find a container with an airtight lid that closes securely. Simply covering a dish with foil or even plastic wrap will cause your chicken salad to spoil faster.
Also, avoid storing chicken salad with other food items if you want to maximize its lifespan. Packaging it with bread, pasta, meat, or other easily spoilable foods invite bacteria faster.
Freezing Chicken Salad
Freezing chicken salad has its pros and cons. On the plus side, it can keep for much longer than in the fridge, between three to six months, making it the perfect option if you have large quantities. On the downside, the chicken salad that has been frozen and thawed will have a less desirable flavor and texture than fresh, though it is safe to eat.
When freezing your chicken salad, make sure to store it in an airtight plastic container or a resealable freezer bag. These will keep out ice crystals called freezer burn, which can affect the flavor and texture of your food.
Taking Chicken Salad on the Go
Of course, chicken salad or any food isn't going to last as long if it isn't refrigerated, so if you're taking your chicken salad traveling, it's best to eat it as soon as possible. Don't let it sit in an unrefrigerated environment for more than two hours. If it's a hot day, it will go bad quicker.
If you want to have chicken salad for lunch at work, your best option is to put it directly in the fridge. That will let you increase its lifespan long enough to enjoy it during lunch.
How Does Storage Affect Chicken Salad?
No matter how you store chicken salad, it will always suffer at least a bit as time goes on. Try to eat your chicken salad within a day to avoid these consequences:
- Separation - If your chicken salad contains mayonnaise or cooking oil, this will start to separate from the rest of the food.
- Sogginess - The moisture in the cooked chicken breast, fruit, and vegetables slowly leak out, and their flesh becomes less firm. That will cause other elements to get wet and soggy.
- Wilting - lettuce and other vegetables will begin to wither the longer they remain in the fridge.
The chicken salad will remain edible within the first few days, although it may look unappetizing.
How Long Can Chicken Salad be Kept at Room Temperature?
Bacteria grow quickly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit and thrive at room temperature. The mayonnaise, meat, and vegetables in your chicken salad are just as good of food for them as they are for you. In as little as two hours, they can fully invest your chicken salad, meaning you'll have no choice but to toss it out.
Is My Chicken Salad Bad?
If your chicken salad is on the edge of going bad, it's always better to be safe than sorry. However, if you're not sure whether yours has gone bad or not, be on the lookout for these signs:
- Discoloration - Bacteria will affect the color of your chicken salad as they grow. The normally pale white color of the dish turns a darker shade of gray. If it has gotten moldy, the color will be more pronounced, turning green or blue with thick patches of fuzz.
- Moisture - If your chicken salad has gone bad, pools of moisture will begin to collect on the surface. That comes from the water contained in the food separating and rising to the surface.
- Bad Smell - The first thing you may notice in off chicken salad is the smell. If it went bad long ago, it would release a powerfully pungent smell that's difficult to ignore. However, if it is only slightly off, the odor may be less noticeable, so you'll want to check carefully.
- Sour Taste - You should never try to eat stale chicken salad. Although if you accidentally ate it, you'll probably notice a sour flavor.
When in Doubt, Throw it Out
Above all else, if you're not sure whether your chicken salad is still good, the safest and most responsible thing to do is throw it out. Food-borne illnesses can have serious health consequences, and they're a high price to pay for satisfying your hunger.
Frequently Asked Questions
To make sure you can enjoy chicken salad safely, take a look at these frequently asked questions about its storage and consumption.
Eating spoiled food, especially meat, can most definitely make you sick. Several strains of bacteria can cause diseases in the body, but the most common ailment is food poisoning. That comes with nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and other symptoms that last 24 to 48 hours after consumption.
As mentioned above, freezing is the best way to maximize chicken salad's lifespan, letting you keep it edible for three to six months. However, you can keep it for even longer if you freeze the ingredients separately.