Roasted, stuffed, grilled, air fried, and barbecued — is there anything more versatile (and delicious) than good ol’ chicken?
Chicken is undeniably a favorite of many but what a lot of people are not aware of is that this protein source has a high risk of bacterial contamination (such as Salmonella and Campylobacter) if not properly handled.
So, how do you properly handle chicken? Can you leave raw chicken sitting on the countertop? How long can cooked chicken last in the fridge? Should you toss or keep the leftover chicken cacciatore from Sunday? How do you know if the meat has gone bad?
Well, read on as we cover these important questions and more. Let’s dive right in!
How Long Can You Leave Uncooked Chicken Out of the Fridge?
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As a general rule, raw chicken should not be left out of the fridge for more than two hours.
If your uncooked chicken (and any other meat, really) has been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours, ditch it.
In fact, if you live in a warmer area, or if it is a particularly hot day, even two hours is pushing it.
The key thing to watch out for here is temperature as it has a determining role in how quick chicken goes bad.
Bacteria thrive between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit — the Danger Zone, as they call it.
So, when you leave the chicken at room temperature (which is, in most cases, right smack in the Danger Zone), you create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
If you need to thaw your frozen uncooked chicken, do not leave it out in the sink or on the countertop for longer than two hours.
Instead, take it out of the freezer approximately 24 hours before you plan to cook it and move it to the fridge.
How Long Can Uncooked Chicken Last In the Fridge?
Well, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw chicken (whether whole or pieces) can last around one to two days in your fridge.
The same goes for other fresh poultry like turkey. This is because the low temperature of the fridge slows down and inhibits bacterial growth. Hence, this why you should make sure that your fridge’s temperature is always below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Besides that, for proper storing, make sure that you do not place the raw chicken with or near cooked food.
If possible, place the uncooked chicken on the lower shelf of the refrigerator. Keep the chicken in a leak-proof container or on a tray to prevent the meat juices from leaking onto your other items and contaminating them.
If you need to store the uncooked chicken for anything more than two days, the freezer is your best bet. In the freezer, raw chicken pieces can be stored for a maximum of nine months while a whole chicken will last for up to one year.
How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?
Now, what about the roasted chicken and broccoli that you left on the table in your haste to get to work?
We hate to break it to you but, again, according to the USDA, if it is not eaten or refrigerated in two hours, into the garbage bin it goes.
This is because, just like raw chicken, cooked chicken is also susceptible to bacteria when the temperature is within the Danger Zone.
Keep in mind that if you leave it under direct sunlight or somewhere particularly warm, you do not even get two hours before you have to throw the chicken away.
How Long Can Cooked Chicken Last In the Fridge?
On the other hand, you have a little more time if you store cooked chicken in the fridge.
According to a refrigerator and freezer storage chart by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cooked poultry lasts about three to four days in the fridge.
For a little extra precaution and to maintain the quality of the cooked chicken, store the dish in leak-proof and airtight containers.
Alternatively, wrap the chicken tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place it in the fridge as soon as possible to ensure freshness.
Toss or Keep: How to Tell If the Chicken Has Gone Bad?
When you are confronted with the choice to toss or keep the chicken, trust your senses — especially smell and sight. Although this is far from a perfect test, more often than not, your senses will come through for you.
Start with the smell. Is there an odor to the chicken? Does it reek? You would know and instinctively recognize the odor of rotten chicken as the smell is atrocious.
Next, move on to sight. If there is a best-by date, start there. Otherwise, look at the color of the flesh. Fresh raw chicken should be a pale pink and cooked chicken should be white. If the color looks anything remotely close to gray, toss it.
Apart from that and to state the obvious, ensure that there is no mold or any sort of growth on your chicken.
If you still cannot tell if your cooked chicken has gone bad, try a (small) bite of it as the last resort.
However, keep in mind that it is better to be safe than to be sorry. If there is any doubt at all as to the freshness of the chicken, chuck it. The risk is simply not worth it.
What Happens if You Eat Spoiled Chicken?
Well, to begin with, you are probably going to experience food poisoning from the Salmonella bacteria in the meat. Typical symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, chills, diarrhea, fever, muscle pain, vomiting, and nausea.
In serious cases, food poisoning can even lead to death. This is why there is such a need for proper handling of both raw and cooked chicken.
The Bottom Line
A good rule of thumb to remember when it comes to chicken (uncooked or cooked) is that when in doubt, throw it out.
Trust us, no delicious chicken dishes can make up for the pain of food poisoning.