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How Long Can Chicken Sit Out?

How Long Can Chicken Sit Out?

Have you ever met a person who didn’t like chicken? Yeah, me neither. This animal produces an array of versatile cuts, each wonderful and delicious in its own way. 

Now, when it comes to storing chicken, you ought to be very, very careful.

Chicken can’t sit out for a long time. Once it’s gone bad, cooking won’t save you from foodborne diseases and wicked parasites. 

Because of this, it’s of paramount importance to answer the following questions: How long can chicken sit out? How long can you keep it in and out of the fridge before it starts to spoil?

I’ll be discussing all of this (and more) in today’s article. You’re just a quick read away from sparing your loved ones and yourself from sickness and wasted money.

Let’s get into it!  

How Long Can Chicken Sit Out At Room Temperature?

The answer is short and clear – not longer than two hours. Some folks would challenge this claim and say that it can last more, but I wouldn’t want to test their hypothesis. 

Your safest bet would be to throw away any raw chicken meat that sat for more than two hours at room temperature. 

Important notice: In case the room is warmer (90 F or over), then the time decreases to one hour.

What About Cooked Chicken?

When it comes to the meat that’s already been cooked, the rules are the same – two hours at room temperature, and one hour at 90 F or more.

I know that, more often than not, people prepare way more chicken than is needed, so they end up with leftovers. When that happens, refrigerate everything that you didn’t manage to eat.

Can Frozen Chicken Sit Out To Thaw Overnight?

No. It’s not a good idea to leave the frozen chicken to thaw at room temperature overnight. The reason for this is that the meat will thaw in just a few hours, and then its temperature will increase. 

Once the temperature reaches 40 F, it has entered what the USDA calls “the danger zone”. The latter refers to a temperature range from 40 F to 140 F, which is suitable for the development of bacteria.

Many folks who already know about the danger zone try to “outsmart” the bacteria. They leave the chicken to thaw on the counter for a few hours. Then, just when most of the ice melts, they transfer it to the fridge to finish the thawing process. 

Even though this seems safe, trust me, it’s not. 

The meat thaws unevenly, and the outer layers will defrost more quickly than the inside. This means that some parts of the meat may enter the danger zone temperature while the others are still frozen. I strongly advise you against doing it this way.

In the following section, I’ll explain how to thaw chicken correctly.

The Right Way To Thaw Frozen Chicken

There are several safe ways to defrost chicken.

The safest and therefore the best way is in the fridge. Yes, the process is longer than those mentioned above, but it eliminates the chances for any bacterial development. 

Here’s what you need to do.

Take the chicken out of the freezer, put it in a bowl that’ll hold the melting ice, and place it in the fridge. A little trick that’ll help you speed up the process is to rinse the frozen meat with cold water.

If you don’t have a lot of time, then I recommend using the microwave in defrost mode. Know that this method doesn’t thaw the meat evenly, so some spots will get hotter than others. 

However, if you cook the meat right away, the bacteria won’t have time to grow. Therefore, use this method only when preparing the chicken right after defrosting.

How To Know If The Chicken Has Gone Bad?

In case you lose track of time and don’t know how long the chicken has sat out, you’ll need to check whether it has spoiled. 

Yeah, but sometimes, that’s not so simple. 

If the meat has been out for only a few hours, cooked or uncooked, it may have gone bad without developing any signs to show it. When you find yourself in this situation, I suggest throwing the meat away. It’s really not worth the risk. Don’t feel sorry for the money because next time, you’ll probably track the time more carefully.

OK, but what are some clear indications of chicken gone bad?

When the meat’s been unrefrigerated for a day or so, it’ll get a greyish color. If you fail to notice this change in color, then check the smell. The sour smell of the raw meat or the ammonia-like smell during cooking shows that you ought to throw the meat away.

On top of this, spoiled chicken slimy texture, which you’ll be able to feel with your hands. Do not just rinse off the slime as it will not remove the bacteria. As a matter of fact, it’ll just contaminate your sink!

See Also: Does Chicken Broth Go Bad?

How Long Can You Keep Chicken In The Fridge Or Freezer?

The fridge is the best place to store your chicken, but it cannot stay fresh there indefinitely. Now, there is a significant difference between storing raw and cooked meat. Fresh chicken shouldn’t be kept in the fridge for longer than two days, while cooked chicken can last up to four.

As for the freezer, the rules are the opposite. Raw chicken lasts longer, and it should be able to go unspoiled for around nine months. Cooked meat, however, can last anywhere from two to six months.

More on this later in the article.

What Are The Risks Of Eating Spoiled Chicken?

Eating spoiled chicken meat will cause food poisoning, and I’m sure you know that by now. So, what kind of bacteria cause this issue?

The most common ones include Salmonella, Campylobacter, and a few others. When fresh chicken meat is cooked well, the bacteria are killed off. However, when people cook spoiled chicken, they only eliminate the surface bacteria, but they don’t get rid of the toxins that it already produced.

If such meat is consumed, food poisoning will ensue. Its symptoms include a high fever, chills, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and even bloody stools. Sometimes, the poisoning is so severe that it requires hospitalization and may even lead to death. 

As you can see, it’s better not to risk it if you suspect there’s something wrong with the meat.

How To Store Chicken In The Fridge/Freezer The Right Way?

To make sure you avoid all of the “inconveniences” mentioned above, I’m going to show you how to store chicken in the fridge or freezer properly. Keep in mind that maximum storage times differ depending on the part of the chicken and the preparation method when storing cooked pieces.

It’s essential to store the chicken in a sealed container or a Ziploc bag. This won’t allow it to touch other foods, which is more sanitary. Also, it’s an excellent way to prevent the chicken from picking up smells from the fridge.

RawWhole chickenChicken partsGround meatGiblets
Fridge1-2 days1-2 days 1-2 days 1-2 days 
Freezer1 year8-9 months2-4 months2-4 months
CookedFried chickenRoasted whole chickenCooked chickenPlain chicken parts
Fridge2-3 days3-4 days2-3 days3-4 days
Freezer3-4 months3-4 months4-5 months3-4 months


Well, I guess if I were to summarize the main point of my article, it would be this: chicken is very prone to spoilage. Does this mean that you shouldn’t buy it or eat it? Heck no!

However, you should purchase and store it with extra care, just to make sure that you’re safe. Always check the best before date and follow the storing guidelines that I provided today. By doing this, you’ll likely enjoy chicken dishes for a long time to come.

The main takeaway for today should be that you mustn’t feel bad about throwing away chicken that you suspect has gone bad. Food poisoning is much more expensive than a few pounds of meat, so keep this in mind at all times.