How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

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How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

Knowing how long cooked chicken can sit out is very important to your health and well-being. Any chicken that is left out for too long runs the risk of growing harmful and unwanted bacteria.

Below we will discover how long cooked chicken can sit out, as well as the best storage methods, how do you thaw your chicken, and how to reheat it. Check out all you need to know about cooked chicken! 

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Why Does It Matter How Long Chicken Is Left Out?

Before we take a deep dive into how long cooked chicken can’t sit out it is important to understand why this matters. It is very important that cooked chicken not sit out for a long amount of time because bacteria can grow on your chicken which can cause toxins and sickness.

Therefore, it is very important to not leave your chicken out for long amounts of time. Let’s look at how long cooked chicken can sit out. For answers to all of your questions, please see the following sections. 

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Be Left Out at Room Temperature?

According to the USDAcooked chicken may be left at room temperature for no more than two hours.  However, if your room temperature is 90°F (32.2°C) or warmer, your cooked chicken should be left out at room temperature for no more than one hour before it goes bad.

Why It’s Dangerous to Keep Chicken At Room Temperature

Knowing how long cooked chicken can sit at room temperature is important because allowing your chicken to stay at room temperature longer than two hours can be dangerous.

It is dangerous to keep chicken at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour or less if your room temperature is 90°F(32.2°C) or warmer because chicken can easily grow bacteria, causing food poisoning which can have serious consequences.  

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out Before It Goes Bad?

When handling cooked chicken it is important to know food safety. Cooked chicken should not be left out for extended amounts of time. A good rule of thumb is to leave the cooked chicken out for no more than two hours before it goes bad. 

Unfortunately, if your cooked chicken has been at room temperature, between 40°F(4.4°C), and 90°F(32.2°C), it should be tossed out. Also, if your cooked chicken has been sitting at 90°F(32.2°C) or warmer for one hour, it should be thrown out as well. 

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What if The Cooked Chicken is in a Sealed Container?

Perhaps you might wonder about keeping your cooked chicken in a sealed container at room temperature. Sadly, it doesn’t make any difference how your cooked chicken is stored at room temperature. Even if it is sealed in a container, it can only last for two hours if your temperature is 90°F or less, and one hour or less if your temperature is 90°F or above. 

The only exception to this would be store-bought canned chicken, which is cooked and canned. Please reference your can for an expiration date in that case.  

Can you eat cooked chicken if left out overnight?

Cooked chicken that is left out overnight should also not be eaten. Chicken that has been left out overnight should be thrown away, and don’t risk getting sick by eating it. It has likely grown bacteria that will make you very sick. 

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Refrigeration and Freezing Chicken

Refrigerating and freezing chicken are the best storage methods for chicken no matter if it is cooked or thawed. Below you will find details on the best practices for both freezing and refrigerating cooked chicken. 

How Long Can You Freeze Cooked Chicken?

You can freeze cooked chicken leftovers for up to four months according to the USDA. For best results, you may want to only freeze your cooked chicken for two or three months, and be sure that it is stored in an airtight container to prevent freezer burn. 

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge?

After your chicken has been cooked, it may last up to 3 to 4 days in your refrigerator if stored in an airtight container. However, if your chicken is raw, you will want to cook it between one and two days after storing it in the fridge. For best results with your cooked chicken, you will want to eat it within three days of storing it in your fridge, or placed it into an airtight container and freeze it for longer storage. 

How to store cooked chicken in the fridge

To store your cooked chicken in the fridge (at 40°F or less), it’s a good idea to cut it, or remove it from the bone. Then place into an airtight container, or sealable plastic bag, and finally transfer to the refrigerator. Store in the fridge after it has been cooked for no more than 3 to 4 days, before using or freezing. 

How to store cooked chicken in the freezer

If you desire to freeze any leftover cooked chicken, simply place your cooked chicken into an airtight container, or sealable plastic freezer bag, write your description and date on the bag, or on a piece of tape on your container, then place it into the freezer. Store in the freezer at 0°F or less, for no more than four months. 

Freezing and Thawing Chicken

Now, let’s turn our attention to how to safely freeze and thaw your cooked chicken. Let’s begin by first looking at some safety tips for freezing chicken, followed by ideas for you on how to safely thaw cooked chicken after it has been frozen.

How Long Can You Leave Frozen Chicken In The Freezer

Knowing how long you can leave the cooked chicken in the freezer to be frozen is important. If chicken is left in the freezer too long, it can run the risk of becoming freezer burnt, and going bad.

A good rule of thumb is to leave your cooked chicken in the freezer for no more than four months. For best results, you may find that your chicken is better when used before three months have passed. Please note that chicken frozen in your freezer should be kept at 0°F or below to keep for this amount of time. 

Is It Okay to Put Cooked Chicken Back in the Fridge?

One common question is if it is okay to put the cooked chicken back into the fridge after it has been frozen, as well as after it has been cooked. Moving cooked chicken that has been frozen to the fridge is a good method to thaw your frozen chicken. You can also put chicken that has been cooked back into the fridge for 3 to 4 days before it goes bad. 

How To Thaw Chicken

There are three main methods you may use to thaw chicken. These three ways include thawing the chicken in your refrigerator, cold water, and using a microwave. Under no circumstances should chicken be thawed at room temperature. 

Refrigerator. The first way to thaw chicken is to move it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator one to two days before you plan to use it. Various types of chicken may take between one and two days to be fully thawed in your refrigerator. 

Thawed chicken may be stored in your refrigerator for one to two days in addition to the 1 to 2 days that may take to thaw. Therefore, you can keep chicken in your refrigerator for up to two days after it has completely thawed in your refrigerator. 

Cold Water. Thawing chicken in cold water is another great method to use. To do this, make sure your chicken is sealed in an airtight bag, then place it into a bowl of cold water. Change the cold water every 30 minutes so that you are sure the temperature of your water stays cold.

Thawing chicken in cold water may vary in the amount of time it takes. Typically, this process can take anywhere between one hour and three hours depending on how much chicken you are trying to thaw out, and the size of your pieces of chicken. Once your chicken is thawed, it should be cooked immediately. 

Microwave. The other method you can use to thaw your chicken is to place it into your microwave on the defrost function. When your chicken is thawed, it should be cooked immediately after it has been microwaved. Chicken that is microwaved becomes partly cooked and runs the risk of growing bacteria if not cooked right away. 

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Can Frozen Chicken Be Left Out to be Thawed?

Frozen chicken should not be left at room temperature to thaw. Instead, the frozen chicken should be thawed in the refrigerator, placed in cold water, or in the microwave. Either of these methods will work, but your chicken should not be thawed at room temperature because it will run the risk of growing bacteria, and causing food poisoning. 

Tips to Avoid Buying Rotten Chicken

There are a few tips you can check that will help you avoid buying rotten chicken. Below are a few simple things for you to check before making your purchase. 

Use By Date. Check the use-by date on the package of your chicken. The use-by date does not necessarily mean the chicken will be bad after that date, but the peak freshness of the chicken will have passed. For a chicken that has the best quality and freshness, try to choose chicken with a use-by date that has not passed yet. 

Cold. Check the temperature of your chicken to make sure it is cold to the touch. You can also read the packaging of your chicken, which should tell at what temperature the chicken has been stored or frozen.

Appearance. Look at the package of chicken over carefully to see if there is any discoloration and if it appears slimy or not. You can also try and smell the chicken, to see if it smells strange. 

Packaging. You will also want to inspect the packaging of your chicken, to see if the packaging has been cut or damaged in any way. Avoid buying chicken with a damaged package. 

Understanding the Danger Zone

The “danger zone” for chicken is a range of temperatures between 40°F(4.4°C), and 140°F(60°C). This comes into play when your chicken is exposed to these temperatures for too long and runs the risk of growing unwanted bacteria.

Any chicken should be stored below 40°F (4.4°C), or cooked at a temperature above 140°F (60°C) until the internal reaches 165°F (73.9°C) of your chicken. Any chicken that sits between 40°F (4.4°C), and 140°F (60°C) is in the danger zone. 

For best practices, the chicken should be refrigerated or frozen right away. Then, when ready to cook, your chicken should be removed from the fridge and cooked right away so that you avoid the danger zone completely. 

What If The Chicken Still Looks and Smells Fine?

Even if your chicken still looks and smells okay, if it has been stored at a temperature above 40°F (4.4°C), for more than two hours, and it’s not in the process of being cooked, your chicken should be thrown out. Even if your chicken still looks and smells fine, you do not want to run the risk of eating chicken that contains unwanted bacteria and may cause serious illnesses. 

Is It Safe To Eat Cooked Chicken Left Out For 4 Hours?

Chicken that has been cooked and left out for four hours should not be eaten. Chicken is only considered “safe” at room temperature for two hours, and if your room temperature is 90°F(32.2°C) or warmer for one hour or less. If chicken is left out for four hours, it should be thrown out. 

How To Tell If Your Chicken Is Bad

There are a few different ways you can tell if your chicken has gone bad. No matter if your chicken is cooked or raw, the below checks will help you to determine if your chicken is good or bad. 

Bad Smells. First, smell your chicken. If your chicken smells bad, or off at all, this is a sign that your chicken has gone bad. 

Visual Appearance. Next, you can look at the appearance of your chicken. If there is anything off visually, such as unusual coloring, mold, or slime, your chicken is likely bad and should be thrown away. 

Difference in Taste. Finally, if the taste of your chicken is off, do not continue eating the chicken. Any chicken that has an unusual taste should be thrown away. 

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How To Store Cooked Chicken

Now that you know how to tell if your chicken is bad, and how long chicken is good at different temperatures, let’s look next at how to store cooked chicken. 

How Can You Store Cooked Chicken?

Seal. The best way to store cooked chicken is first to place the chicken into an airtight storage container, or sealable plastic freezer bag. 

Store. After your cooked chicken is placed into a storage container, you can then place it into the fridge for 3 to 4 days, or you can freeze your cooked chicken for 3 to 4 months. 

What Temperature Is Safe For Cooked Chicken?

To tell when your chicken is fully cooked, you will want to use an instant-read thermometer and determine if the internal temperature of your chicken has reached 165°F (60°C), and the juices run clear. Once the internal temperature of your chicken registers to 165°F (60°C), and the juices are clear, your chicken is fully cooked and may be enjoyed. 

A safe temperature to store your cooked chicken is to place it in the refrigerator at 40°F (4.4°C) or less. Store in the refrigerator for no more than 3 to 4 days. 

For a safe storage temperature for your cooked chicken in the freezer, your chicken may be stored in an airtight container, or plastic freezer bag, then stored at 0°F (-17.78°C) or less for 3 to 4 months.

Can You Refreeze Thawed Chicken

Determining if you can refreeze thawed chicken depends upon how your chicken was thawed. According to the USDA, you may refreeze thawed chicken only if the chicken was thawed in the refrigerator. Chicken that was thawed any other way may not be refrozen until after it has been fully cooked. 

Effective Storing Cooked Chicken Tips

Let Cool. Once your chicken has fully cooked, and you need to either save it for later to serve or store the cooked chicken, first allow the chicken to cool to room temperature. 

Be sure to not leave it at room temperature for more than two hours, but you will also want to let it cool off before placing it into the fridge or freezer. 

The reason you will want to allow your cooked chicken to cool is that the heat from your chicken causes the temperature inside your fridge to rise. This could endanger other foods already stored there. When your chicken has cooled to room temperature, in less than two hours, transfer it to a storage container and then store. 

Seal To Store. Before storing your cooked chicken, you will want to steal it. You can you’re your cooked chicken by placing it into an airtight storage container, sealable plastic bag, or vacuum sealing it.

Refrigerate. Once your chicken has been sealed, label and date your container, then refrigerate for 3 to 4 days. Your chicken will be best when enjoyed as early as possible, when stored at 40°F (4.4°C) or less for 3 to 4 days. 

Freeze. You may also choose to store your cooked chicken inside your freezer for a longer amount of time. To save your cooked chicken more time, place it in the freezer. When frozen at 40°F (4.4°C) or less, your chicken can be stored for 3 to 4 months. 

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Health Concerns

How Can Bad Cooked Chicken Harm Your Health?

Cooked chicken that has gone bad can greatly harm your health. Cooked chicken that has been left out too long can grow bacteria which can make you very sick. 

Can You Get Food Poisoning From Leaving Cooked Chicken Out?

When cooked chicken is left out for an extended amount of time, you can get food poisoning by eating it. This is one of the reasons why it is important to not eat chicken that has gone bad. 

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Stay Before It Goes Bad?

A good rule of thumb is to not leave cooked chicken above 40°F (4.4°C) for more than two hours. If the air temperature is above 90°F (32.2°C), your chicken may last one hour or less. 

How To Reheat

You can reheat cooked chicken that has been stored for later if desired. There are a few different ways you can reheat your cooked chicken. These different ways include warming it in the oven, the stove top, in the microwave, or on a grill. 

How Do I Reheat My Refrigerated Cooked Chicken?

There are many different ways you can reheat your refrigerated cooked chicken. Some of the ways include warming your cooked chicken in the oven, on the stove top, in the microwave, or on a grill. There are other ways you can reheat cooked chicken as well. Simply choose your desired method, and warm your cooked chicken to your desired temperature. 

FAQs

How Long Will Cooked Chicken Stay Good in the Fridge?

Cooked chicken if stored properly can last between three and four days in the fridge. 

What Is The Time Limit For Leaving Out Cooked Chicken?

The time limit for leaving out cooked chicken is two hours, or if your room temperature is 90°F (32.2°C) or warmer, one hour. 

How Does Bacteria Spread When Food Is Left Out?

Yes, bacteria can spread quickly when food is left out for extended amounts of time. 

Will Reheating Cooked Chicken Kill The Bacteria?

Other reheating cooked chicken may kill some of the foodborne bacteria, it cannot kill all of the toxins and bacteria that grow if left out for an extended amount of time. Therefore, it is best to toss any chicken that contains a risk of bacteria. 

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Does chicken go bad if not refrigerated?

Yes, the chicken will go bad if not refrigerated right away.

Can you eat cooked chicken left out for 3 hours?

No, you should not eat cooked chicken that has been left out for three hours. 

Can I Eat Cooked Chicken That Has Been Left Out Overnight?

No, you should not consider eating cooked chicken that has been left out overnight. Any chicken that has been left at room temperature for more than two hours is highly likely to contain bacteria that can make you very sick. 

How Long Can I Leave My Cooked Chicken In A Sealed Container Outside?

Chicken in a sealed container may be left out for two hours if your temperature is above 40°F (4.4°C), and below 90°F (32.2°C). However, if the air temperature is 90° (32.2°C) or warmer, your chicken will only last for one hour or less. 

What Should I Do To Defrost Cooked Chicken Properly?

To defrost cooked chicken, you can allow it to defrost in the refrigerator, in cold water, or by using the defrost function on your microwave.

Does Barbecue Sauce Help To Preserve Chicken?

No, barbecue sauce does not make any difference in preserving chicken. 

Can You Eat Fried Chicken at Room Temperature?

It is not recommended that you eat fried chicken at room temperature. Can you run a high risk of obtaining food poisoning, as the chicken has likely grown harmful bacteria. 

Should chicken be at room temperature before cooking?

It is a good idea to thaw the chicken before cooking it, however, you do not want the chicken to be at room temperature. For details on the best way to thaw your chicken, please see the above section. 

Can you freeze cooked chicken?

Yes, you can freeze cooked chicken. For best results, you will want to allow the chicken to call slightly before transferring it to an airtight or storage container. Then place into the freezer and freeze at 0°F (-17.78°C) or less for 3 to 4 months. 

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out and Still Be Considered Safe?

Cooked chicken may be left out for two hours if your temperature is between 40°F (4.4°C) and 90°F (32.2°C). Chicken that is left at 90°F (32.2°C) or warmer, should only be left out for one hour or less. For best results, you will want to store your cooked chicken in the refrigerator or freezer when it is not being eaten.

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Do Not Let Your Chicken Sit Out For Too Long

Important that your chicken not be left out for an extended amount of time as it runs the risk of growing harmful and unwanted bacteria. A good rule of thumb is to store your chicken in the refrigerator or freezer not being served.

Then, only allow your chicken to sit out for two hours if the temperature is between 40°F (4.4°C) and 90°F (32.2°C), any chicken at 90°F (32.2°C) or warmer should only be left out for one hour or less. 

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References

USDA

Chicken Recipes 

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