When you have cooked chicken, it’s essential that you know how long it can be left out.
Cooked chicken can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria when left out for too long, so we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about how long cooked chicken can sit out on your counter and how you can store and reheat it.
By the end of this article, you won’t have to worry anymore about how you should handle it.
The best rule of thumb is to consider that if it’s been out for longer than two hours, then you should throw it away.
It doesn’t matter if it still looks and smells good; not all bacteria are visible to the naked eye. It’s better to play it safe and dispose of your chicken if you leave it for this time.
Instead, you should store it in the fridge and reheat it if you’re not going to eat it immediately.
However, the length of time your chicken stays out should depend on the room temperature.
If you live in a significantly warm climate, you should only leave your chicken out for a maximum of an hour.
Why Do You Need To Know How Long Chicken Is Left Out?
Before we go into detail, we need you to understand why it’s essential you know how long your chicken is left out.
When you leave the chicken out, bacteria grows on your chicken, which is how you can get salmonella.
You don’t want to get sick, so you shouldn’t leave your chicken sitting out at room temperature for too long.
Food poisoning can be much more dangerous than you think, so you should always be careful when handling cooked chicken.
It’s also why you should take care when preparing it and that you know how to store it correctly.
How Long Can You Leave Chicken Out At Room Temperature?
Let’s say that your kitchen is above 90° Fahrenheit. How long do you think you should leave your chicken out?
If you say two hours, I’m afraid to say that rule only applies when the temperature is lower than 90° F. If it’s above, you should dispose of your chicken after an hour of being outside.
Can You Leave Cooked Chicken Out In A Sealed Container?
You can leave cooked chicken out in a sealed container, but it won’t make any difference to how long you can leave the chicken out at room temperature.
If it’s left out at 90°F or less, it should still be thrown away after being left out for two hours or more, while temperatures higher than 90°F require it to be thrown away after one.
There is an exception to the rule, and this is if you have chicken in a can. If you have canned chicken, you should consult the expiration date to find out when it will need to be thrown away.
Can You Still Eat Chicken Left Out Overnight?
If you forget that you have chicken and you leave it out overnight, you should throw it away. You should never eat chicken that has been left overnight, or you may become sick.
No matter the temperature, it doesn’t matter if you leave the chicken for leftovers and forget to put it in the fridge; it should still not be eaten.
We’re afraid that if you forget to put it in the fridge, harmful bacteria will have already started to grow on it. So, you’ll need to find an alternative for lunch.
How To Store Cooked Chicken
When you want to keep cooked chicken for another day, it’s best to either store it in your refrigerator or freezer.
It doesn’t matter if your chicken is cooked or thawed; it’s still best to store it in a cool place to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria on your food.
In this section, we’ll be discussing how long you should store chicken in your fridge or freezer and how long it will remain good.
How To Store Chicken In The Fridge
If you want to store your chicken in the fridge, you should ensure your fridge’s temperature is 40°F or less.
Ideally, you should cut your cooked chicken into pieces and remove any bones. Once you do this, put it inside an airtight container, or you can put it in a sealable plastic bag.
How Long Does Chicken Last In The Fridge?
Your cooked chicken will last longer if you put it in the fridge, and you can use it for a variety of other meals.
We recommend you use it within three or four days, and if you don’t use it within this timeframe, you should put it in the freezer.
However, raw chicken should be cooked within a day or two of you storing it in your fridge.
Can You Put Cooked Chicken Back In The Fridge?
If you’ve cooked or thawed your chicken, you may be wondering if it’s okay to put it back in the fridge. The answer to this is a resounding yes.
If you’ve thawed your chicken or haven’t eaten all of it in one sitting, it’s best to place it back in your fridge. The rules stay the same, so put your cooked chicken and use it within three or four days.
How To Store Chicken In The Freezer
Did you cook your chicken but are unsure if you want to use it within the next few days? If so, you can always store it in your freezer.
All you need to do is store it in a sealable freezer bag or in an airtight container. We recommend you put a date on the bag just so you know whether it’s still good to eat or not if you forget about it.
Ideally, your freezer temperature should be 0°F or less; if your freezer is a higher temperature, you may want to recalibrate it.
How Long Does Chicken Last In The Freezer?
Storing your chicken in the freezer will ensure it stays fresh for the longest amount of time. It doesn’t matter if they’re leftovers or not.
So long as it’s stored correctly and safe from freezer burns, your chicken should be kept for two or three months.
However, sometimes, it can last for four months. We recommend you use it between two or three months, as four may be pushing the limits on whether your chicken is still good.
How To Thaw Frozen Chicken
Now that you know you can freeze your chicken, it’s time to ask the important question: how do you thaw frozen chicken?
There are three safe methods to ensure your chicken is thawed correctly.
Naturally, we would also discourage you from thawing your chicken at room temperature; instead, here are the options we recommend:
Thaw In The Fridge
You should consider removing your chicken from the freezer and transferring it to your fridge a day or two before you plan to use it.
This is because different types of chicken take different lengths of time to thaw. You can then store the thawed chicken for one or two more days in your fridge once you thaw it.
Thawing With Cold Water
You can also thaw chicken with cold water. All you need to do is put your chicken in an airtight bag, seal it, and leave it in a bowl of cold water.
Ideally, you should then change the water every half an hour to ensure that the water doesn’t reach room temperature or get too warm.
Using this method could take anywhere from an hour to three, depending on the size and amount of chicken you plan to use. Then, you should cook it immediately so it stays fresh.
Thawing In The Microwave
The age-old method of thawing chicken comes with the help of a microwave. However, this is not a risk-free method.
You should always defrost your chicken using the defrost function, and then you should cook it immediately.
As your chicken will be partially cooked in the microwave, it’s more likely to grow bacteria if you don’t cook it straight away.
How To Avoid Rotten Chicken
When buying chicken, you should always ensure you’re getting the best for your buck.
Here are a few helpful tips you should consider to ensure you’re getting the most for your money and avoiding rotten chicken.
Always Check The Use-By Date
Remember to always look at the use-by date when you buy a package of chicken.
While this doesn’t always mean your chicken will expire on or after the date, it will mean that it is no longer fresh after this date.
It may not be an issue if you plan to cook on the day; the same can also be said if you plan to freeze it.
However, we don’t recommend cooking chicken past the use-by date as it may mean that bacteria will have begun to grow on it, and you don’t want food poisoning.
Ensure It’s Cold
Have you ever been to the shop and noticed chicken that has been placed elsewhere? It’s best not to pick up any chicken that has been removed from the fridge.
If the chicken isn’t cold while it’s in the fridge, you should check to see if the refrigerators are working properly.
Cold chicken means that it will remain fresh, and then you should keep it cold for as long as possible until you plan to use it.
How Does It Look?
We will consider both the appearance of the chicken and the packaging itself. If there are any tears or damages in your chicken’s packaging, you should avoid buying it.
The same can also be said if you notice any discoloration or slime. If you’re uncertain, you can always smell the chicken to see if it smells good.
If it doesn’t smell good, you should find one that still appears undamaged and fresh.
What Is The Danger Zone?
There is a danger zone that makes chicken too dangerous to consume. This is usually between 40°F and 140°F.
You’ll find that if your chicken is exposed to these kinds of temperatures for too long, it’s at a higher risk of growing harmful bacteria.
That’s why all chicken should be stored below 40°F and cooked above 140°F until it has an internal temperature of 165°F.
If your chicken sits between these two temperatures, it’s regarded as being in the danger zone.
That’s why it’s essential that you should put your chicken in the fridge or freeze it immediately upon purchasing it.
When it’s ready to cook, you should immediately remove it from the fridge so you can bypass the danger zone and enjoy your chicken safely.
Knowing When Your Chicken Is Expired
Now, if you’re uncertain of whether your chicken has expired, we have a few things that you should keep an eye on.
So, let’s take a closer look at what an expired chicken looks, smells, and tastes like.
It Smells Bad
The first thing you should do is check if your chicken still smells good. You’ll know when it smells bad because it may remind you of rotten eggs.
The smell is particularly sour or pungent, while fresh chicken should not smell like this. That’s because chicken, when it’s good, doesn’t necessarily have a scent to it.
It Looks Off
Everyone knows what fresh chicken looks like, and if you notice anything suspicious about it, it’s best to trust your gut.
You may notice your chicken has a weird coloring; say it’s yellowy, green, or gray, which means it’s gone bad.
Chicken usually has a light pink color and should be soft and moist. If it has any sign of slime on it, it could be that there’s something wrong with it.
It Tastes Different
Suppose you’ve cooked your chicken because it still seems fine; you should taste it. We all know what the usual chicken tastes like, but throw it away immediately if it tastes rancid or stale.
One bite won’t kill you, but you shouldn’t continue eating it if you notice anything strange about the taste.
What If The Chicken Still Seems Fine?
Sometimes your chicken may still appear to smell and look okay, but you should never eat it if it’s been stored below 40°F for over two hours.
It’s fine if it’s in the process of being cooked, but if it’s not, you should throw it away. Even if a chicken still appears fine, there will still be a high chance of harmful bacteria still remaining on it.
While some people may still take the risk, we recommend avoiding it if you can. After all, food poisoning is not something that anyone should experience.
Tips For Storing Cooked Chicken
Now that you’ve cooked your chicken and served it in a meal, you may be too stuffed to eat anymore. If you’re keeping some chicken for later, you should let it cool first.
While you shouldn’t leave it for too long at room temperature, you shouldn’t throw it in the fridge straight away.
If you put it in the fridge, your chicken will cause the temperature to rise, which may spoil other foods you already have in the fridge.
So, keep it out for a little while, and wait until it’s cool enough that you can store it in a safe container.
It doesn’t matter what kind of container you seal it in. However, we do believe an airtight container or a sealable bag is the best option.
So long as it’s secure, you should be able to ensure that your chicken remains fresh.
You should then store it in your fridge, or you can store it in your freezer if you don’t plan to use it within the next three or four days.
If you store it in your freezer, it can be used within three or four months.
How To Cool Your Food
Depending on how you’ve cooked your chicken, there are tips to help it cool quicker. After all, you don’t want to put it in the fridge while it’s too hot.
If you put hot food in the fridge, the temperature inside may rise and spoil your food. That’s why we have a few tips to help you.
If you have small pieces of cooked chicken, consider stirring it frequently to help it cool faster.
You should also remove it from where it’s cooked and move it to a smaller container.
A smaller container won’t be as hot, so you don’t need to worry too much about it maintaining steady heat.
You should also allow air to circulate around your container and try not to seal it straight away.
Ideally, your food should be cool within an hour or two this way, and you can safely store it in the fridge once you do this.
How To Reheat Cooked Chicken
Now that you’ve stored your chicken safely, you may be wondering how to reheat your chicken.
There are several ways to reheat the cooked chicken, whether it’s in the oven, on the stove, in the microwave, or on the grill. Here are some instructions for each method:
Reheating Chicken In The Oven
Reheating your chicken in the oven may take the most time, but it’s the best way to get the most out of your flavors.
All you need to do is preheat your oven to 250°F and put your chicken on a baking tray.
We recommend putting aluminum foil over it so your chicken remains moist, and remember to add a dash of oil or butter before covering it.
Ideally, your chicken will be cooked between 10 and 15 minutes, and check that it’s been reheated thoroughly before you serve it. Remember, your chicken should not be below 165°F.
Reheating Chicken In The Microwave
The microwave is the quickest option to reheat any food; however, if you do so for too long, your food will get dry.
You should put your chicken on a microwavable plate and add a dash of water, oil, or sauce to it before covering it with a microwave-safe lid.
Once you do this, you should cook it on medium heat until your chicken is evenly cooked and safe to eat.
Reheating On The Stove
Putting your chicken on a pan to reheat it on the stove is not a popular option, but you can still reheat it this way.
Ideally, you should keep it on low heat to prevent overcooking it. All you need to do is add some butter or oil to the pan and put your chicken in.
Then, turn the chicken over halfway through your cooking time to ensure it cooks evenly. Usually, this method will take five minutes, but it depends on how much chicken you cook.
How To Cook Raw Chicken
You need to take several steps when you cook raw chicken to ensure it’s safe to eat.
For one thing, you should always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling it, but you don’t need to wash the chicken itself.
Raw chicken is already ready to be cooked, so you don’t need to wash it as you would vegetables.
Instead, you should ensure that you avoid cross-contamination by using a separate cutting board when you’re preparing it.
Don’t let the raw chicken touch other foods, or the juices may carry harmful bacteria to other foods.
You should then wash your cutting boards and any utensils you used to cut your chicken. Don’t use these utensils again before you wash them, or you could end up giving yourself food poisoning.
The amount of time you spend cooking your chicken depends on how much you’re cooking at once and how you cook it.
If you’re following a recipe, you should follow the directions accurately to ensure that it’s cooked properly. Smaller cuts of chicken will require less time, while a whole chicken will take longer.
It also depends on how you’re cooking your chicken. Roasting usually takes longer than grilling or pan-frying.
If you’re microwaving a dish with raw chicken in it, you should follow the directions thoroughly.
Chicken should not look pink, and you should also use a food thermometer if you’re worried that it hasn’t reached an internal temperature of 165°F.
Once you cook your raw chicken, you should eat it straight away, or if you plan on leaving the rest for later, you should follow our earlier storage instructions.
After all, you don’t want to leave the cooked chicken out for too long at room temperature.
How To Tell Your Chicken Is Cooked Correctly
Now that you’ve cooked your chicken, you may wonder if you cooked it correctly. The good news for you is that we have come up with the answers you’re looking for.
It’s not too difficult to see when chicken is cooked correctly.
While we would recommend a food thermometer, not everyone owns one, and if you’ve never used one before, you need to know how to use it correctly.
How To Use A Food Thermometer
Ideally, the internal temperature of your chicken should be 165°F. We suggest using a digital thermometer; you should put it in the thickest part of the meat.
Try not to touch any bones, as the bone tends to conduct heat. It’s easy to get a false reading if you touch the bone. Once you’re satisfied the temperature is safe, your chicken will be good to serve.
Feeling The Chicken
While it’s best to use a thermometer, if you don’t have one, there are other methods to use. One test for many experts is the finger test.
To compare what raw meat feels like, you should relax your hand and pinch the flesh on your hand just below your thumb.
You’ll know what medium-rare meat feels like if you touch your thumb with your middle finger and pinch it.
You can feel medium-cooked meat by touching your thumb with your ring finger, and well-done meat can be compared to touching your thumb with your pinkie.
Admittedly, this technique is better for smaller cuts of chicken, and you should only do this if you feel comfortable with your comparing skills.
To help understand better, we should note that raw chicken often has a rubbery, wobbly texture, while cooked chicken has a firm feel to it.
Check If The Juices Are Clear
When your chicken is cooked correctly, you’ll find the juices are clear when you cut into it. However, if you notice a pinkish or red color, you should cook it for longer.
While this isn’t a popular method, it’s not bad. Many don’t like it because they don’t want to take the risk of contaminating their chicken, and the juices can also keep your chicken moist.
Did Your Chicken Shrink?
Sometimes it’s more difficult to see if your chicken is cooked based on skin color.
Chicken can look great on the outside but still remain cold and pink on the inside. However, a cooked chicken will shrink, as will other meats.
This is the best method to examine your chicken if you’re grilling for a barbecue.
Remember that this method might require a little bit of trial and error; if your meat is too small, it might mean your chicken is overcooked.
Check The Color Of Your Chicken
Cooked chicken should be a white-ish gray color and should lose any signs of pink. The best way to check on this is by cutting the chicken with a knife and looking at the inside of it.
If there’s still some pink, you must cook your chicken longer. You should only eat it when you find that there is no sign of pink in your chicken anywhere.
Personally, we recommend using a food thermometer, but not everyone may own one. That’s why if you are concerned, you should check the color of your chicken.
This is the easiest method, as some people may not want to contaminate their chicken by seeing if the juices run clear.
You might also not want to mess with the flavor. The shrink check, however, is best done when you’re doing a barbecue, and feeling the chicken only works if you’re confident.
The Dangers Of Eating Bad Chicken
Chicken is one of the most popular dishes, but it must also be prepared correctly. If you don’t prepare your chicken or leave it at room temperature, you could be in danger of getting food poisoning.
This is because chicken can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens.
So, that’s why you should never eat raw chicken or allow anything to get contaminated by the juices of a raw chicken.
Here is what may happen if you eat bad chicken:
Campylobacter is a bacteria that can cause a Campylobacter infection, which can affect up to 1.5 million in the U.S. every year.
Symptoms of this infection include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. Usually, your symptoms will start a few days after eating this meat, and it can last up to a week.
You can even get these infections if the bacteria spreads to foods that have been prepared near raw chicken, which is why you should use different chopping boards depending on what you make.
Salmonella, one of the most well-known effects of food poisoning, is the cause of 1.35 million infections in the U.S. each year and has resulted in roughly 26,500 hospital stays.
Symptoms of Salmonella include headaches, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea.
Sometimes, it can take anywhere between six hours and six days after you eat chicken infected with this bacteria, and your symptoms could last for up to a week on average.
Clostridium perfringens are what you are most likely to experience if you let your chicken rest at room temperature for too long and then eat it.
However, it can also be found in raw chicken. Usually, the symptoms of an infection of this bacteria are diarrhea and cramps.
They usually appear within 8 to 12 hours after eating bad chicken and last for a day.
While food poisoning doesn’t always affect those in the long term, there are situations where it may result in severe dehydration or a hospital stay.
This is why it’s essential that you prepare food to the best of your abilities and ensure that it’s safe to eat.
It’s also why cross-contamination is so important to avoid and why you should ensure your chicken is kept away from other types of food.
Now that we have talked about how long you can leave cooked chicken sitting out, you should have no issues ensuring it is safe to eat in the future.
It’s best to store it in the fridge after cooling your cooked chicken, as it shouldn’t be left out for longer than two hours.
However, if the temperature is higher, you may notice that it needs to be left out for a shorter period.
We hope this article has helped you understand how to handle chicken safely. If you’d like more info about chicken or other food facts and inspiration, please check out some of our other articles.
Frequently Asked Questions
There’s no reason why you can’t leave chicken out for 30 minutes. You can leave it for up to two hours or an hour if your room temperature is above 90°F.
Your chicken should be left to cool for 2 hours at most before you store it in your fridge. If you put it in the fridge too soon, you could accidentally contaminate the other food you have in the fridge.