How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

While cooked chicken can be delicious, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to cook it frequently, because, let’s be honest, more often than not, you’re stuck with a lot of leftovers. So what are you supposed to do with them? And how long can cooked chicken sit out anyways?

That’s a question all of us carnivorous have asked at one point. But with food as delicate as chicken, there are strict rules you have to follow to avoid getting sick and risking your health, so you can’t just wing it, like with some other food.

With chicken, as with other poultry, it’s extremely important that you cook it properly. However, it’s also crucial to eat it in a certain amount of time, because “out-of-date” chicken can cause as many health issues as poorly cooked chicken.

The number one enemy of cooked chicken is high temperature. In this context, the high temperature actually refers to room temperature. This means that leaving the cooked chicken to sit on your counter will definitely lead to some unwanted consequences.

But, why is room temperature so bad and what will happen to cooked chicken if left to sit out on the counter? 


The Danger Zone

Here is an interesting fact you probably didn’t know. Are you familiar with the phrase “the Danger Zone” and in what context it’s used with food? 

The Danger Zone is a term coined by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. It’s used to describe the temperature range from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is where the bacteria spread out in the food quickly, causing it to go bad after only a few hours. 

This means that when you leave cooked food out, including chicken, at room temperature, it immediately enters the Danger Zone! Once this happens, you have two choices. You can either eat all of it or store it in the fridge within two hours. 

While the Danger Zone ranges between 40 and 140 degrees, on hot summer days when it’s usually 90 degrees or more, the period in which it’s completely safe to consume your cooked chicken is even shorter. In extremely hot weather, there’s a chance chicken will go bad within an hour if not refrigerated. 


Know How To Store Chicken Safely

The best way to store chicken is definitely to put it in the fridge. 

When it comes to raw chicken meat, it can sit in the fridge for a day, two days at most. If more than two day passes, it’s better to throw it away. 

If you want to prevent raw meat from going bad, it’s better to put it in the freezer rather than the fridge, because the extremely low temperatures will create better conditions and it will significantly slow down the deterioration process. In fact, raw whole chicken can stay in the freezer for up to a year, while raw chicken cutlet can be left in the freezer for no more than nine months.

Cooked chicken, on the other hand, can survive for about three to four days in the fridge. Don’t let the chicken sit in the fridge for more than four days, and always make sure to eat it before the four days time stamp passes.

You can also freeze cooked chicken but keep in mind that it won’t retain the flavors and aromas once it’s frozen and defrosted. However, this can be a great way to keep the cooked chicken from going bad quickly, but it’s recommended to eat it within two to six months at most.

One more thing is very important. Don’t ever let the raw chicken thaw overnight. It may seem convenient to take the chicken out of the freezer before going to bed so it thaws overnight and you can cook it in the morning, but this is never a good idea.

Just like cooked chicken, raw chicken also cannot sit out for more than two hours! 

A better thing to do would be to take the chicken out of the freezer an hour before you plan to cook it, and put it in the fridge so it can defrost slowly and steadily. 


How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

When it comes to cooked chicken, there’s no point in beating around the bush because the answer is very clear and simple. 

Cooked chicken cannot sit out for more than two hours!

As we previously mentioned, this window of time is closing fast as the temperature in the room goes higher. So on hot days, you have about an hour to eat all your chicken, after that, you’ll have little choice but to throw it away or put it in the fridge.


How To Tell If Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad

With both raw meat and cooked chicken, it can be a bit difficult to tell if it’s gone bad. The thing is, after sitting out for more than two hours, the cooked chicken won’t start to smell bad right away and you may not notice any signs of contamination, but they are there. 

When your cooked chicken enters the Danger Zone and more than two hours pass, if you haven’t eaten it nor put it in the fridge, chances are that it’s started to go bad. Leaving cooked chicken for more than two hours on your counter creates an ideal ground for bacteria to feed on. 

Since it takes more than a couple of hours for cooked chicken to start to smell or show signs of deterioration, you’ll just have to trust us and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, rather than your gut. 

While with most food you can rely on your senses to tell if it’s gone bad, this is not exactly the case with chicken. Bacteria can feed on your cooked chicken that’s been sitting out for hours before there are any visible signs of contamination. Plus, cooked chicken that’s gone bad is a feeding ground for salmonella, listeria, and E.Coli, all of which can cause serious health problems.

If your freshly cooked chicken doesn’t have a white or brown color to the meat, and it looks rather grey, or green-grey, then the meat wasn’t good to begin with. You’ll notice this also happens if you let the cooked chicken sit out for a whole day or more, and it’s a definite sign of bad chicken!

Another sign of bad chicken is if it’s slimy or there are white spots right after you cooked it. If this is the case, don’t even try to eat it, just throw it away immediately!

See Also: Does Chicken Broth Go Bad?


Food Safety Tips: Chicken Edition

There are a couple of things you should pay attention to when it comes to chicken. We have some advice for you regarding chicken that we believe might help you! 

The number one is – when in doubt, throw it out! This means that if you suspect something is wrong with your chicken, it most likely is. Chicken meat is very sensitive and it doesn’t take a lot for it to go bad. Plus, consequences from eating bad chicken are too severe to just risk it!

Also, always make sure to let your chicken sit out in a clean area! Since bacteria will show up after only a couple of hours, try not to hasten that process by leaving chicken out on an already contaminated area. 

Furthermore, never rinse out raw chicken meat. This may seem like a good idea to get rid of bacteria, but it’s quite the opposite. Water will create an even better ground for bacteria, and the only way you can actually get rid of them is by cooking the meat.

Last but not least, when shopping for chicken meat, always pick it last. That way it won’t sit out of the fridge for a long time while you’re looking for other grocery items!


Final Word

The answer to the life-long question – how long can cooked chicken sit out, may or may not have surprised you. 

Always keep in mind that respecting the two-hour rule for cooked chicken is very important! 

You can seriously risk your health by eating bad chicken, and while it might seem delicious, it’s just not worth it.

Telling if cooked chicken has gone bad is tricky, so make sure to educate yourself and everyone around you, especially kids, on how long it can sit out. Our digestive system simply cannot handle the bacteria in rotten chicken, so why risk it.

All things considered, it’s better to throw away bad chicken than to suffer the consequences. Better safe than sorry, don’t you agree?

Leave a Comment