Cooked Chicken Left Out Overnight Safe To Eat
You accidentally left the cooked chicken on the kitchen counter overnight and are wondering if it’s still safe to eat the next morning. We are going to explore if it’s safe to eat your leftover chicken that was left sitting at room temperature overnight, and what some of the consequences might be as well as things you can look for to determine if chicken is spoiled or not.
The Short Answer
Is cooked chicken left out overnight safe to eat? The short answer is simply don’t do it. Seriously, don’t even consider it.
It’s not worth the risk of you getting very sick from food poising from eating the dangerous bacteria that has likely grown on the cooked chicken as it sat out overnight.
Let’s look at why you should not eat cooked chicken that has been left out overnight.
Cooked chicken, or any type of chicken can only be safe at room temperature for a couple of hours as a general rule. This is because when chicken is supposed to warm temperatures, it runs the risk of growing unwanted bacteria which can make you very sick.
The general rule is that chicken should be left at room temperature for no more than two hours when the temperature of the room is between 40°F and 90°F. If the room temperature is 90°F or above, then the chicken should be left out for no more than one hour before it goes bad. (united states department of agriculture)
The two-hour rule is a good guideline to follow, and it will help you to err on the side of caution so that you can avoid consuming any unwanted or harmful bacteria.
A time limit of two hours is a good rule of thumb to follow, you definitely don’t want to exceed that maximum time, as it’s not worth the risk of getting sick.
Breeding Ground for Harmful Bacteria
When chicken sits at a temperature within the danger zone for an extended amount of time, it grows harmful bacteria which can cause foodborne illnesses and cause serious health problems.
Just to clarify, the danger zone is when perishable foods, such as cooked chicken or even raw chicken, sit between 40°F and 140°F for 1 to 2 hours or more.
At this temperature range, the food is not being preserved, and it’s not being cooked. This is why bacteria has the chance to grow and cause major health problems when consumed.
By eating chicken that has been left out overnight, the chicken has likely grown harmful bacteria, which can have major health consequences if eaten. These health problems are commonly known as food poisoning which can range from being not too serious, to extremely serious.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
As mentioned, food poisoning is a result of eating food that has gone bad. This is why it’s not recommended to eat chicken that has been left out overnight.
Chicken that has been left out too long, has likely grown harmful bacteria which can be very serious to your health. Food poisoning can vary in seriousness, and even end with hospitalization or death.
Here are some of the common symptoms of food poisoning.
Severe cases of food poising may go beyond these common symptoms. Symptoms of food poisoning that continue or worsen, may result in needing medical attention. If you have eaten spoiled food, and are experiencing these symptoms, make sure you seek appropriate medical help right away. (CDC)
Risk of Food Poisoning
To put it bluntly, if you eat cooked chicken that has been left out overnight, the chicken is likely contaminated food, and you are at a high risk of experiencing food poisoning from unwanted bacterial growth.
The bacteria growth on cooked chicken happens very quickly, especially when it is in the danger zone for far too long. Because of this, if you have left the chicken out overnight it is no longer safe to eat. Do not risk getting food poisoning, but throw the food away.
What about Raw Chicken?
You might be thinking okay my chicken wasn’t cooked and I left it out overnight, it was actually raw so I should be safe right? Wrong.
Raw chicken should also be left at room temperature for no more than two hours before it goes bad as well.
Raw meat that remains in the danger zone for too long will grow unwanted bacteria as well which is still very harmful to your health, even if you cook the uncooked chicken after it has been in the danger zone.
Cooking the raw chicken that has sat out will not remove all the harmful bacteria.
How to Store Chicken
In the Fridge. The best way to store chicken is in the refrigerator. To do this you want to make sure that it is in a sealed container, or sealed securely in an airtight container, or plastic bag.
You can then place the chicken into the fridge for up to 3-4 days for cooked chicken or one to two days for raw chicken in the fridge. (USDA)
Frozen Chicken. You can also freeze the chicken for longer storage if desired. You will want to package it so that you can avoid freezer burn, by sealing it in a plastic freezer bag, vacuum sealing it, or freezing it in an airtight container.
Then place it into the freezer for up to one year for the best results. (USDA)
Once the chicken has been thawed, it should remain in the fridge for no more than 1 to 2 days after it has been fully thawed. However, it may need a day or two to completely thaw out in the fridge after removing it from the freezer. These days can be added on to the 1 to 2 days until the chicken is completely thawed.
Please note that how long does chicken last in the fridge will depend on how the chicken was thawed out. The example above is if the chicken was thawed in the refrigerator.
However, if you thawed chicken using a cold water bath at room temperature, you will need to cook the chicken immediately after it has been thawed.
Signs of Spoilage
If you have had chicken in your fridge, whether cooked or raw, and are trying to determine if it is still safe to eat or not, here are some common signs of spoilage that you can look for to determine if it is safe or it is bad chicken.
Expiration Date. Double-check the expiration date on your package if you still have it around to see what the recommended timeframe is. Keep in mind that raw chicken should only remain in the fridge from 1 to 2 days after it has been purchased. Cooked chicken will likely last between three and four days after it has been purchased or cooked.
Slimy Texture. You can also examine the texture of the chicken, to see if there is a slimy coating present on the chicken. If you see or notice any type of slimy texture this is a sign that it has spoiled.
Sour Smell. If your chicken has a foul odor or sour smell to it, these are both signs that the chicken has spoiled and should be thrown away. Chicken that is still safe to eat should not have a nasty smell to it.
Odd Color. Finally, you can look at the color of your chicken to see if there is any odd color to it or mold growing. If you see any sign of green, blue, or gray colors to the chicken whether it is cooked or raw, this likely means that it has spoiled and should be thrown away.
The Ideal Temperature to Keep Chicken Warm
If your chicken is fully cooked, and you’re just trying to keep it warm, you want to keep the temperature at 140°F or warmer to prevent unwanted bacteria from growing. But for chicken to be considered fully cooked the internal temperature must reach 165°F.
When cooking chicken it’s very important that your chicken is fully cooked to reach a safe temperature inside of the meat before it is consumed. Raw chicken should never be eaten. The internal temperature of your chicken must reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit before it is safe to eat.
To determine the internal temperature, we recommend using a food thermometer or meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Make sure that you insert the meat thermometer in the thickest part of your chicken so that you’re sure it is fully cooked.
What the USDA Says
The USDA also addresses whether heating or reheating the cooked chicken will kill the bacteria if the meat was left out overnight. Their answer is that it may kill some of the foodborne bacteria, but it will likely not kill everything. They specifically mention a bacteria toxin by the name of Staphylococcus which can develop in foods that sit out of the fridge for more than two hours. (USDA)
Food Safety Guidelines
Following the simple tips when working with both cooked and raw chicken will help you to err on the safe side so that your food is safe to eat every time. The bottom line when it comes to chicken, is if in doubt you should never risk eating it. Instead, throw the food away, especially cooked chicken that has been left out overnight, which is not safe to eat.