We've all been there – you've cooked up a delicious batch of chicken for dinner, but life happens, and you get sidetracked. The chicken sits on the counter for a bit and you are wondering if you've wasted all of your hard work. So, just how long can that plate of chicken safely chill on the counter before it becomes a risky game of culinary roulette?
In this post, we're diving into the nitty-gritty of how long can chicken sit out. From room temperature limits to food safety tips, we've got you covered. Let's settle the chicken sit-out debate once and for all!
Cooking chicken for my family is one of my absolute favorite things to do in the kitchen. Fresh chicken is like a canvas waiting for a burst of flavor creativity by varying the spices, seasons and cooking method! The versatility of chicken is truly astounding and leads to all kinds of delicious meals.
From juicy roasted whole chickens to tender grilled breasts, it never fails to amaze me how one protein can be transformed into so many mouthwatering dishes. Some of my favorite chicken recipes include:
- Oven Baked Bone In Chicken Breasts
- Easy BBQ Grilled Chicken Leg Quarters
- Crock Pot Shredded Chicken
- Easy Chicken Cacciatore
- Lemon Garlic Herb Chicken Marinade
Plus, chicken is one of the most budget-friendly protein options, making it perfect for feeding a hungry crew without breaking the bank. Whether it's a hearty chicken stir-fry with an array of veggies, fried chicken or a comforting chicken noodle soup on a chilly evening, homemade chicken dishes are undeniably satisfying.
With any meal, but especially chicken, it's important to take steps to keep your family from getting sick while you are cooking. If you want to protect your family from foodborne illness using chicken in a safe and timely manner is the key. This post is your trusty guide to chicken safety.
In the next few sections, we'll cover everything from deciphering how long cooked and raw chicken can safely sit out on your countertop without raising any food safety alarms, to mastering the art of detecting when chicken has taken a turn for the worse. And let's not forget the crucial tips on storing chicken like a pro, ensuring it stays fresh and tasty for your next recipe. So, whether you're a seasoned chef or just starting out in the kitchen, consider this your go-to resource for all things chicken, because keeping your meals delicious and safe is what we're all about!
How long can cooked chicken sit out at room temperature?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, cooked chicken should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the "danger zone," which is the temperature range between 40 degreed F and 140 degrees F. Leaving cooked chicken within this temperature range for an extended period can increase the risk of foodborne illness.
To ensure food safety, it's best to refrigerate or reheat cooked chicken within that two-hour window unless you are using a food warmer that keeps the temperature above 140 degrees F.
When chicken is at room temperature, time is of the essence. And, if the room temperature is above 90 degrees F, the safe time for leaving cooked chicken out is reduced to just one hour. Always prioritize food safety when handling poultry to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Following food safety guidelines can keep food spoilage to a minimum. No one wants to eat bad chicken.
Reheating Leftover Chicken
Reheating chicken safely is essential to avoid foodborne illness while ensuring it remains both delicious and moist. Always reheat chicken promptly moving from the fridge to your heating method without delay and use a digital thermometer to ensure the chicken is reheated to 165 degrees F.
- Oven: Reheating chicken in the oven is a great way to maintain its moisture. Preheat your oven to around 350 degrees F, place the chicken in an oven-safe dish and cover it with foil to prevent drying out. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and type of chicken pieces.
- Microwave: When using a microwave, place the chicken on a microwave-safe plate, cover it and set the microwave to medium power. Reheat in short increments, checking the internal temperature regularly. Stir or rotate the chicken to ensure even heating.
- Stovetop: Reheating chicken on the stovetop is quick and easy. Use a non-stick skillet or saucepan, add a small amount of liquid (such as chicken broth or water) to prevent drying, and heat over low to medium heat, stirring frequently.
How long can raw chicken be left out of the refrigerator?
Raw and cooked chicken should not be left out of the refrigerator at room temperature for more than two hours. Leaving raw chicken within this temperature range for an extended period increases the risk of harmful bacteria growth, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. In warmer weather (above 90 degrees fahrenheit), the safe time for leaving raw chicken out is reduced to just one hour.
How Can You Tell When Chicken is Spoiled?
Here are some indicators that chicken may have gone bad:
- Smell: The most reliable way to determine signs of spoilage is by its odor. Fresh chicken should have a mild, neutral scent. If it has a strong, unpleasant smell, or sour, or pungent odor, it is likely spoiled. Trust your sense of smell; if it doesn't seem right, discard the chicken.
- Appearance: Examine the chicken's appearance. Fresh chicken should have a pink or whitish color, depending on the cut and whether it's cooked or raw. If the chicken has developed a grayish or greenish tinge, or if there are visible mold spots, it's a sign that it's gone bad.
- Texture: Touch the chicken to check its texture. Fresh chicken should feel moist and slightly slippery. If the chicken has a slimy texture or is sticky to the touch, it's a sign of spoilage. These common signs could save you from the risk of food poisoning.
Bacteria and food-borne illness are not visible to the naked eye. If chicken has been left out or you are at all worried about its safety, even if you don't see any of the signs listed above, discard the chicken immediately and sanitize all surfaces.
How to Store Both Cooked and Raw Chicken
Both cooked and raw chicken should be stored properly and used in a timely manner to avoid illness. Let's explore the similarities and differences in the storage procedures.
Storing Cooked Chicken
Cool the cooked chicken quickly by spreading it on a plate. Transfer the cooked chicken to an airtight container or zip-top bag. Seal and store it in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Cooked chicken can also be frozen in an airtight freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.
Storing Raw Chicken
When purchasing raw chicken, check the expiration date to be sure it is within date. When you get home, store the raw meat in the fridge as quickly as possible. Raw chicken should be stored in a leakproof container or freezer bag separate from other foods. You can transfer the chicken to a new container but be sure to sanitize your hands and all surfaces after doing so. A general rule of thumb is to use fresh, raw chicken within 1-2 days of purchase or freeze it for longer storage, up to three months.
Defrosting Raw Chicken
Defrosting frozen chicken can be a little tricky but there are three simple methods to get the job done. These methods work well for all cuts of chicken and poultry with the exception of whole, bone-in chicken. You should always defrost whole chicken in the fridge and never on a kitchen counter. The process may take up to several days depending on the weight of the bird. All other cuts can follow these procedures.
- Thaw in the fridge. If you need to thaw frozen raw chicken, the best way is to place it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
- Waterbath thawing. If you are working with a sealed package of chicken, place the package of chicken in a bowl of cold water. Continue to change the cold water every 15 minutes or until the chicken is defrosted. This process usually takes about 30-45 minutes, but you can keep changing the water for up to 2 hours. Again use the two-hour rule of never leaving it out more than that.
- Microwave defrosting. Alternatively, you can use the microwave's defrost setting. If the chicken is in a packaging, remove it from any metal or foil wrapping and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Follow your microwave manufacturer's instructions. Microwave ovens vary in power, so it's best to defrost chicken in short, controlled intervals. Start with 1-2 minutes of defrosting time and increase as needed.
Again, do not thaw chicken at room temperature, as this can quickly allow the growth of harmful bacteria to multiply.
Note: Freezer burn is not harmful but can effect the taste and texture of chicken. If the chicken has freezer burn, you can cut away the effected area.
By following these steps and practicing safe food handling, you can store raw chicken safely and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and more serious health issues.
Proper storage and handling of raw chicken are essential for maintaining food safety in your kitchen and keeping your family safe and healthy. When in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution and teh bottom line is to discard the chicken.