While chicken is a staple on most low carb diets, it’s hard to stick to keto when food poisoning strikes.
Even if you don’t follow a low carb lifestyle, Americans eat more chicken than any other meat. Thus, it’s important to address how long can chicken sit out, plus all associated chicken food safety FAQs properly.
Keep reading to learn how long raw chicken can sit out, how to tell if raw chicken is bad, the best way to thaw frozen chicken, and exactly how long raw and cooked chicken should sit out before tossing them in the trash.
How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out?
When dealing with chicken, always keep the two-hour rule in mind. This rule stays the same whether the chicken fresh, frozen, or fully cooked.
Two hours is the amount of time most food experts agree is safe to leave any type of chicken sitting out on the kitchen counter. This only applies when chicken is out at a normal room temperature.
This is also in accordance with the USDA Danger Zone.
The USDA government website states, “Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.”
The two-hour rule changes to a one hour window of time when chicken is left out in warmer temperatures, IE above 90 degrees F. Dangerous bacteria grows more quickly in both uncooked chicken and leftover chicken when left out in a warmer environment.
Why is Raw Chicken Dangerous?
If you leave raw meat sitting on the counter for too long, it may become contaminated with harmful bacteria. Some of the bacteria that may form include E. coli, Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens, or Salmonella bacteria.
If you’ve never suffered from a case of Salmonella food poisoning, trust me when I tell you – you’re not missing out on the diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain that often accompany this nasty foodborne illness.
When you eat undercooked chicken, or chicken filled with bacterial growth from being left out too long, other serious health problems can occur. While not as common, people with a weakened immune system may experience more serious health risks, such as:
- Joint Pains
- Kidney Failure
- Urinary Tract Infection
Does Cooking Chicken Kill All of the Bacteria?
While cooking poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill some of the harmful bacteria, it’s not a good idea to risk harmful bacteria growth that occurs on thawed meat that’s been left out for too long.
Avoid eating spoiled chicken, as it can result in food poisoning. This can happen even when the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
How long can cooked chicken sit out at room temp?
You should still follow the 2-hour rule, even when it comes to the juicy baked chicken you just pulled out of the oven.
While leaving fully cooked chicken out isn’t quite as dangerous as leaving raw chicken meat out for too long, it’s still a good idea to store leftover chicken in an airtight container as soon as possible. Keep cooked chicken refrigerated until you’re ready to eat it.
What About Fried Chicken?
The general rule of thumb is the same when it comes to fried chicken. If you forget to store fried chicken in the fridge after a couple of hours, whether it’s homemade low carb chicken nuggets or a fast food version like KFC, be safe and toss it out.
Remember – if it’s a hot day, the maximum time you should leave cooked chicken out is one hour.
How Long Can Raw Chicken Be Left in the Fridge?
If you buy fresh chicken from the grocery store, there’s no need to immediately freeze the chicken. This is only true if you plan to use it within a couple of days.
To determine how long chicken should be left in the fridge (prior to cooking or freezing), be mindful of the expiration date. As long as fresh raw chicken hasn’t reached the expiry date, then it should be OK to leave it in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Something else to keep in mind is where to store raw chicken in the fridge.
Store raw meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge and keep it in its original packaging. While it’s important to keep raw chicken in a well sealed container, as well as keep it away from other foods and cooked meats, storing chicken on the bottom shelf provides an extra layer of safety in case the chicken leaks.
How Long Can Cooked Chicken Be Stored?
After chicken is fully cooked, you can store it in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. While this may not seem like a long time, you don’t want to risk bacteria that forms on perishable food, like cooked meat.
Always store meat products in an airtight container to keep them fresh. This also helps you avoid food spoilage.
If you currently store leftover chicken in a plastic reusable container, now’s a great time to switch to glass containers. This helps you avoid harmful toxins from BPA and BPS plastic containers.
How Long is Frozen Chicken Good?
Now that we’ve discussed what to pay attention to when it comes to raw and cooked chicken, you may be wondering how long does chicken last in the freezer?
Packages of individual frozen meat, such as chicken breasts, chicken thighs, and raw chicken cutlets, have a shelf life for up to 9 months in the freezer. You can freeze a raw whole chicken for up to a year.
If you freeze freshly cooked chicken, you can expect this to last anywhere from 2-6 months in the freezer. Be sure to wrap cooked chicken tightly in plastic wrap, or airtight freezer bags to avoid air exposure.
Can Raw Chicken Be Refrozen?
Want to throw a pack of chicken you didn’t have time to cook back in the freezer?
This isn’t a good idea since refreezing chicken may deteriorate the quality of the meat. According to thekitchn.com, “The second thaw breaks down even more cells, leaching out moisture and changing the integrity of the product.”
Even worse, when you attempt to thaw meat, refreeze, and then thaw again – harmful bacterial contamination occurs more quickly than with fresh chicken.
If you realize you have thawed chicken that’s been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days, but you already have other plans for dinner, follow the steps for this juicy oven baked chicken recipe. That’s an easy way to use the leftover chicken for meal prep throughout the week, while not wasting good food.
You could even cook the chicken, and then store it in the freezer right away. The cooked chicken will last this way for 2-6 months. Be sure to store it in individual batches if you plan to reuse it for something like an easy low carb chicken stir fry dish.
How to Tell if Raw Chicken is Bad
Now that you understand the two-hour rule, and you know safety rules around storing chicken, how can you determine if chicken is already bad?
While we all hope grocery stores only sell safe food products, sometimes hope isn’t enough. Even though most stores don’t have nefarious intentions, rotten chicken is occasionally found on store shelves.
Here are questions to ask that show signs of spoilage so you don’t end up eating rotten meat:
- Is the chicken pink? Fresh chicken usually has a light pink color with pieces of white fat. When raw chicken turns yellow, green, or gray in color, it’s best to throw the bad chicken away.
- How does bad chicken smell? While even fresh chicken may have a slight smell, when raw chicken smells like rotten eggs – it’s time to toss it in the trash. (Preferably the outdoor trash so the bad smell doesn’t stink up your house). Raw chicken should never smell like ammonia, rotten eggs, or just plain funky.
- Is the chicken slimy? If your chicken has a slimy texture, then you’re likely dealing with spoiled meat. Fresh chicken is naturally soft and glossy. If your chicken is moist, sticky, or slimy, plus it gives off a foul odor – it’s not a good idea to use this chicken.
- What’s the expiration date? You should find two dates on a pack of chicken: the expiration date and the best-by date. When it comes to spoiled chicken, be sure to use it prior to the expiration date, as this is the date manufacturers use as a food safety deadline. You can cook chicken after the best-by date. Keep in mind, you have to properly store chicken after purchase if you plan to use it after the best-by date.
Chicken Safety FAQs:
It is not safe to eat chicken that was left out overnight. This is true for both raw chicken, as well as fully cooked chicken.
While many people believe you can just reheat chicken to kill the harmful bacteria, this is not the case.
Eating spoiled chicken can result in a foodborne illness. Dangerous health effects from eating bad chicken include diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, bloody stools, and dehydration.
Yes, eating raw chicken can result in food poisoning. This is due to harmful bacteria, including Escherichia Coli (E. Coli), Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter bacteria, and more.
As long as you get the chicken into your fridge or freezer in less than two hours, this should be OK. However, it’s best to save adding perishable products into your cart until the end of your shopping trip. Always keep raw chicken separate from other foods in case it leaks.
You can safely thaw chicken for up to two hours, which may include thawing it on the counter or in the sink. Always keep raw chicken away from other foods to avoid contamination. Do not allow any leaky chicken juices to contaminate other dishes or surfaces. If it does, be sure thoroughly wash the dishes and any other contaminated surfaces. Always wipe down all counters, including any other surfaces raw chicken comes into contact with.
You should not wash poultry prior to cooking. The process of washing raw chicken can spread bacteria to other foods, utensils, and surfaces. Washing poultry does not prevent illness.
Since dogs have a stronger digestive system than we do, some dogs can better deal with the bacteria found in raw chicken. AKA- don’t panic if you catch your furry friend noshing on the raw chicken you had stashed on the counter.
With that said, some dogs are more sensitive than others. Keep an eye on your dog for a few days if you find out Fido got into your raw chicken stash. Also, double check your dog didn’t ingest anything that can block his airways, such as chicken bones.
While there are proponents of a raw food diet for cats, read all of the facts you should consider prior to feeding your cat raw chicken.
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How Long Can Chicken Sit Out – Chicken Safety FAQ
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