This Is How Long Can Chicken Sit Out (Both Raw and Cooked)

Chicken is a staple in our home for quick and delicious meal options. It is also a popular source of food poisoning. From a long drive home from the grocery store with packs of raw chicken in the trunk to a backyard hangout with picnic tables stacked with fried and grilled chicken… How long can chicken sit out before it gets dangerous?

(Food) Safety First

Worldwide, poultry is a popular source of deadly food-borne illnesses because of Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. Prioritizing proper food safety practices when handling poultry (raw or cooked) is the only way to protect your family from serious health problems. 

How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out?

When it comes to chicken, you should not take any chances since harmful bacteria grow rapidly. This is especially true for raw chicken that has been left out of the fridge for an extended period.

The FDA and other experts recommend that raw chicken not be left out of the fridge for more than two hours. This is because when it reaches temperatures of 40℉-140℉ (the Danger Zone) harmful bacteria begin to multiply rapidly. 

However, the two-hour rule only applies to ideal conditions. If the chicken (raw or cooked) is sitting out in the heat or sun one hour is the maximum safe time as it can reach the Danger Zone much more quickly.

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

Although cooked chicken is quite different from raw chicken, it still should not be left out for more than two hours. Even though it has been cooked, germs and bacteria can still multiply, leading to food poisoning for those who eat it.

It is easy to accidentally leave cooked chicken out for too long. A backyard bbq or party can make time fly. Most experts recommend that cooked food should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible after it has been cooked. 

If you are having an event in your home, you may want to consider rotating food out or setting a reminder on your phone to pack up food so it doesn’t reach the two-hour mark.

Overall, if you get to the end of an event and realize that you have quite a bit of chicken left over that has been sitting out, you likely want to toss it out. While there is a chance that it’s fine, the possibility that it’s gone bad and you could suffer from food poisoning is also likely and not worth the gamble.

add the warm bbq sauce to the smoked chicken wings

How Long Can Fried Chicken Sit Out?

Fried chicken is no different than any other cooked chicken and must follow the two-hour maximum limit for being left out. Leaving any chicken out for longer than two hours puts it in the danger zone.

Related >> Chicken Leg vs. Drumstick: Understanding the Differences

How Long Can Frozen Chicken Sit Out?

Just because chicken is frozen doesn’t make it safe to leave out. You shouldn’t leave your frozen chicken out for more than 2 hours – same as raw or cooked chicken.

Is it Safe to Refreeze Thawed Chicken?

If you have thawed your chicken using safety recommendations, then you should be able to refreeze it with no problems. The safest way to thaw chicken is overnight in an airtight container in the refrigerator where the cold air will continue to keep it safe from bacteria.

As long as the chicken has been thawed in the refrigerator for less than two days, it can be stored back in the freezer in a freezer-safe container.

It is also important to note that you should never thaw raw chicken at room temperature at any time.

As long as you have not exposed your chicken to heat or room temperatures, it should be safe to refreeze it. The FDA guidelines suggest that you always use caution when working with chicken.

Related >> How To Defrost Chicken

What Happens If You Eat Spoiled Chicken That Has Been Left Out?

We all have that friend that will eat just about anything in the fridge as long as it’s not moving but when it comes to the risk of eating spoiled chicken, you don’t want to take the risks lightly. Food poisoning is a real danger that comes with unpleasant symptoms at best, and a trip to the ER at worst. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody excretions
  • So much regret

Throwing away $12 of chicken is a much better deal than a thousand-dollar medical bill or a home full of sick kids. Tossing chicken as soon as you notice any spoilage signs is the best practice to protect your family from food poisoning.

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What Are Signs Of Spoilage In Chicken?

Anytime you suspect your chicken may be questionable, check for the common signs that chicken is spoiled.

Signs of spoilage in cooked chicken include mold, general color changes, and pink flesh in cooked chicken. 

Signs of spoilage in cooked chicken are a little more obvious and include any general color changes, especially greenish or gray tones, chicken fat that appears yellowed, an unpleasant smell (sour or rotten-egg scent), sticky or slimy texture, or any chicken past its expiration date.

If your chicken has any of these signs or just seems a little off, don’t risk it.  

How to Store Chicken

Another important factor to understand is how you should store your chicken whether it is raw or cooked. For both options, it is best to store them in an airtight container.

If you purchased your chicken in an airtight container, simply place it in your fridge until it’s time to cook it. This is the best way to prevent cross-contamination. 

If you need to open a package of raw chicken, store all raw chicken in airtight containers like zip-top bags or snap containers. Write the date on the package, and save space in your memory for more important things (like where you hid the good snacks from the kids). 

I like to place the zip-top bag in a large bowl in the refrigerator because of one instance of a leaking bag that led to several hours of deep clean detailing and disinfecting of essentially the entire fridge. Not my favorite way to spend a Friday evening.

When it comes to cooked chicken, first allow it to cool down completely before you consider storing it. This is because if you put warm food in the fridge, even if it is in a container, it can cause the fridge’s temperature to rise which can cause bacteria to grow on other foods.

Many experts recommend once you have allowed the cooked chicken to cool down, that you either wrap the food carefully in plastic or aluminum foil. The best suggestion, however, is to place it in an airtight container to avoid any contamination.

Keep in mind that the placement of the chicken is also important since you can run the risk of cross-contamination in certain foods. For example, if you have both cooked and raw chicken in the refrigerator, you should always put the raw chicken on the bottom shelf to avoid any leaks.

At the end of the day, how chicken is stored can make the biggest difference in whether or not it stays fresh. If there is even the smallest hole in the package, or if the container lid didn’t quite seal, bacteria could be thriving on your chicken.

How Long Can Chicken Last in the Fridge?

Raw chicken is safe in the fridge for about two days maximum when stored properly, it is recommended by experts that raw chicken left in the fridge for longer than this period should be tossed.

The USDA recommends eating any cooked leftovers, including chicken, within three to four days. Refrigeration slows down (but does not stop) bacteria growth. When refrigerating cooked chicken, always let it cool down completely. Placing warm foods in your fridge can raise the temperature inside the refrigerator impacting other food items. 

Related >> How Long Does Chicken Last in the Fridge? (And Signs It’s Gone Bad) 

How Long Can Chicken Last in the Freezer?

Like most other foods that you have placed in the freezer, both raw and cooked chicken can last for several months as long as it has been stored properly.

If you just bought some chicken but know that you will not be cooking it for at least a few days, it is best to store it in the freezer to keep it from going bad.

When it comes to cooking chicken, sometimes you will have leftovers that you may not want to eat for a little while. Once it has cooled, you can place it in an airtight container and the freezer for up to 9 months.

The amount of time that you can store chicken in the freezer varies but a safe bet is about the nine months mark. While bacteria do not typically live in cold temperatures, freezer burn does.

frozen chicken thawing in the fridge

How Long Can Chicken Sit Out FAQ:

Can Chicken Be Left Out Overnight to Thaw?

Absolutely not. Leaving chicken out overnight is a recipe for disaster. Chicken can be left out for a maximum of two hours – and that’s in ideal conditions. If you accidentally left a cooked chicken dish or package of raw meat out overnight it must be thrown away because it is not safe to eat. 

Does it Matter If Chicken Is Covered on Uncovered?

Unfortunately, whether or not you cover chicken will not impact its ability to stay fresh. It’s best to store any chicken, raw or cooked, in the fridge when you aren’t in the process of cooking or eating it. 

Does BBQ Sauce or Marinade Help Preserve Chicken?

Although BBQ sauce and marinades help bring out the best flavor in your chicken, they won’t preserve it. Marinated chicken is safe and delicious for up to two days in the fridge. After that, bacteria growth goes wild, and the marinade will begin breaking down the meat tissue of the chicken. 

If it’s been more than 48 hours, toss that chicken. Otherwise, you may have mushy food poisoning on your plate. 

What if I Reheat the Chicken I Left Out?

The dangerous bacteria that grows on chicken that has been left out is immune to heat. Cooking chicken that has been left out WILL NOT make it safe to eat. If you accidentally left your chicken out, it needs to go in the trash.

How To Prevent Cross-Contamination When Working With Raw Chicken

Raw chicken is a common source of harmful bacteria. Practicing food safety habits can help keep you safe. 

  • Wash your hands and all surfaces thoroughly with soap and water often.
  • Use disinfecting wipes or spray. 
  • Use separate tools, containers, and cutting boards for raw chicken and all other foods. 

Can Raw Chicken Sit Out For 3 Hours? 

No, the two-hour maximum is a hard limit. At three hours, harmful bacteria has spread to a point that it may not be eradicated with cooking making the chicken unsafe to eat. 

Whether you leave chicken out for 24 hours or 3 hours, it’s impossible to tell whether chicken has become contaminated and is no longer safe to eat. Discard all chicken left out for more than two hours to prevent the risk of illness.

What Should I Do If I Left Chicken Out For More Than 2 Hours?

If chicken (raw or cooked) was left out for more than two hours (or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F), throw it out. 

How To Tell If Chicken Is Cooked Thoroughly?

A digital quick-read thermometer is the best way to confirm that the internal temperature (9t the thickest part of the meat) has reached 165°F (74°C).

Can I Eat Chicken That Has A Pink Center?

Only if you want food poisoning. Chicken with a pink center is not fully cooked and will likely make you sick. Chicken should always be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) with juices that run clear.

Should I Rinse Raw Chicken Before Cooking It?

This is something that people feel strongly about so I will share info from the USDA: “A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that individuals are putting themselves at risk of illness when they wash or rinse raw poultry.”

The USDA warns against washing or rinsing raw chicken because bacteria can cross-contaminate other surfaces which may not be properly sanitized. Plus because bacteria thrive on the surface and within raw chicken, rinsing off the chicken doesn’t remove the bacteria risks. 

Can Raw Chicken Sit In The Car For An Hour?

No, don’t let chicken sit in your car for any amount of time. Cars act as greenhouses, warming up from the sun and ambient temperatures, putting your food in the Danger Zone easily. If you’re transporting raw chicken use a cooler with ice packs or a thermal bag to maintain a safe temperature.

How Quickly Can You Get Food Poisoning From Raw Chicken?

Food poisoning symptoms begin to appear around a few hours to a few days after eating spoiled chicken. The most common bacteria on raw chicken that causes food poisoning are Salmonella and Campylobacter. 

Symptoms of salmonellosis start 6 to 48 hours after exposure and last for 4 to 7 days. Campylobacter infection symptoms appear 2 to 5 days after exposure and last up to 10 days.

What Should I Do If I Accidentally Eat Raw Chicken?

If you have accidentally consumed raw chicken, you’ll likely know it as soon as symptoms begin. 

  • Monitor your symptoms: If your symptoms are mild, you can ride out the food poisoning. However, if symptoms become moderate or severe, seek medical attention. Food poisoning can become serious – and even life-threatening.
  • Stay hydrated: Food poisoning symptoms often lead to dehydration, so prioritize staying hydrated. Water, clear broths, and electrolyte drinks are all great options. 
  • Avoid triggering foods: Certain foods can make symptoms worse. Avoid fatty and fried foods, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy. Eat bland and easy-to-digest foods as your digestive system recovers.
  • Keep Clean: Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water will help prevent you from spreading bacteria to others in your home. Use disinfecting wipes or sprays on surfaces and maintain distance from others when possible.

Can I Cook The Bacteria Out Of Chicken?

Yes, part of cooking chicken to 165°F is to kill off bacteria and reduce the risk of food poisoning. When checking the temperature, use an accurate thermometer and place it in the thickest part of the chicken.

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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