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How Long Can Chicken Sit Out: Until When Is It Safe?

It’s important to know how long chicken can sit out because chicken can easily spoil and cause food poisoning. This post will answer the age-old question ‘How long can chicken sit out?’

Have you ever bought raw chicken to make roasted chicken and left it on the counter? Or taken the frozen raw chicken out from the freezer and left it for too long? Well, you are not alone. Due to our busy lifestyles, many of us found ourselves in these situations. 

whole roasted chicken served on the plate

How long can Chicken sit out?

When it comes to perishable food products, we cannot help but worry if they are still safe to eat.

It is better to throw both cooked and raw chicken out instead of putting ourselves and our loved ones at the risk of consuming spoiled chicken. The good news is that you should not discard everything you have left out right away.

How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out?

The maximum time a raw chicken should sit out is two hours.

If you think that you have left a raw chicken in temperatures above 40°F, it is best to discard it. It is highly likely that it has already been contaminated and unsafe for consumption. 

Raw chicken can be a breeding ground for salmonella bacteria and other elements that could have infected the chicken during production.

If you leave a raw chicken out, the chances that these bacteria have already multiplied past the salvage point are high.

How Long Can Frozen Chicken Sit Out?

The longest time a frozen raw chicken can sit out is two hours from when its internal temperature goes above 40°F because that temperature is already considered a danger zone.

The tricky part is that you need to be on the lookout constantly because once you freeze the chicken, you effectively stop any bacteria that might have been living in it in its tracks.

However, freezing does not kill bacteria; it just makes them sleep. Once the chicken thaws, the bacteria will awaken, so you are on the clock when you take the chicken out of the freezer. 

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

Cooked chicken is not immune to bacteria growth. Temperature plays a big part in how long cooked chicken can sit out.

Yet again, the longest time cooked chicken can sit out unrefrigerated, at room temperature, is two hours, given that the room temperature does not exceed 90°F.

Once it goes beyond this, you should not leave the cooked chicken out for more than an hour.

This information is beneficial when serving chicken in buffets and even on picnics and outings, or even when dealing with cooked leftovers.

If you have put out the cooked chicken at room temperature for more than two hours, especially when outdoors, it is best to discard it than to eat chicken that will put you at the risk of food poisoning. 

Signs of Rotten Chicken

Aside from leaving a chicken out for too long, there are also other circumstances in which a chicken may spoil.

For instance, spoilage may happen faster when you have bought an already contaminated raw poultry in the first place. To avoid buying rotten chicken, you should be observant.

Here are 4 signs that your chicken is rotten:

1. Pungent smell.

The most obvious sign that chicken is already unsafe for consumption is its smell. While it is true that raw chicken does not have the best scent, it should not smell that bad. If you notice that your chicken already smells similar to the smell of rotten eggs, then you are looking at spoiled meat.

It is a good thing to remember that the absence of a funky smell does not automatically mean that your chicken is not rotten. Pay attention to how it looks and feels, too. 

2. Discoloration.

Yet another one of the signs that a chicken is rotten is a color change. Fresh raw chicken meat has a lovely pink color. If you see that your chicken has turned into another color, such as gray or green, then your chicken is already rotten.

It is important to note that even when your chicken looks okay, you cannot be too sure that it is still safe to consume. Keep an eye out for other signs your chicken might be rotten to keep you safe from food poisoning. 

3. Change in texture.

You can mostly tell that your chicken has gone bad if it slides easily from your hands when you hold it. When chicken meat develops a slimy texture and becomes too soft to the touch, you should immediately discard it so it won’t further contaminate your kitchen.

Again, just because your fresh chicken feels okay doesn’t mean that it is not spoiled. Look for other signs that your chicken might be rotten, like its color and smell. 

4. Past expiration date. 

The most obvious sign that a chicken is already rotten is when the packaging says so. Manufacturers know more about their products than we do, so you should trust them when they say that the chicken is already expired.

Of course, after you have ensured that the chicken is not past its expiration date, you have to check for other signs that your chicken might not be safe to eat anymore, like a change in smell, color, and texture.

How To Thaw Chicken Safely

Freezing chicken is an effective way to prevent it from going bad. In fact, whole raw chicken can be kept in the freezer for a year, and it will still be good to eat.

However, if the chicken has undergone additional food handling, like cutting or filleting, it could have been exposed to more bacteria. Because of this, chicken cutlets and fillets can only last up to nine months in the freezer. 

When you are ready to consume the frozen chicken that you have stored well in the freezer, you should still take precautions when thawing it to ensure that the chicken you have preserved by freezing does not go bad while you defrost and prepare to cook it. 

Here are three ways to thaw chicken safely:

Inside The Fridge

The best way to thaw chicken safely is to do it inside the fridge. Get the chicken from the freezer and transfer it to the refrigerator to thaw it.

The only downside of using this method is that it takes a considerable amount of time. Depending on the chicken’s size, thawing the chicken using this method might take about 24 hours. 

You can safely leave raw chicken inside the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If you are not able to cook it by then, it would be best if you refroze it to avoid spoilage. 

When thawing chicken inside the refrigerator, it stays at a constant and safe temperature all throughout the process, which means that you have not awakened the dangerous bacteria in it.

Because of this, it is safe to refreeze the raw chicken that has been completely thawed inside the refrigerator. 

Submerged In Cold Water

Another great way to safely thaw chicken is to submerge it in cold water. Fill in a large container with cold water to cover the whole chicken, and then leave the chicken in.

Change the water once every 30 minutes until the chicken is fully defrosted.

Never use hot, warm, or room temperature water to thaw chicken. Doing so puts the chicken in a temperature danger zone.

Thawed chicken defrosted using a water bath should be cooked immediately to avoid spoilage. 

Remember that when you thaw a chicken by submerging it in cold water, it is unsafe to freeze it again. 

Using The Microwave

Yet another way to thaw raw chicken safely is to use the microwave. You can either use the defrost button on your microwave or set it to 30% of its power.

Take note that the weight of the chicken matters in this method because you should heat the chicken for 2 minutes for each pound.

Remember not to use the regular setting or 100% of the microwave’s power because doing so cooks the outside of the chicken while leaving the insides still cold or frozen.

When you use the microwave method in defrosting the raw chicken, it is a must to cook the thawed chicken immediately because it has already been exposed to heat. 

It is also never safe to refreeze chicken that has been thawed using the microwave.

Notice that letting the frozen chicken sit out is not listed above because it is tough and impractical to look after a chicken sitting on the kitchen counter while defrosting. You’d have to watch it closely and take its internal temperature from time to time to ensure that it does not exceed 40°F, at which point the harmful bacteria will start to awaken. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to use uncooked chicken left out for five hours?

It is not safe to use raw chicken left out at room temperature for longer than two hours, so uncooked chicken left out for 5 hours is beyond saving. Discard your chicken if it has been out of the refrigerator or freezer for five hours. 

Is it safe to use raw chicken left out overnight? 

Uncooked chicken left out overnight at room temperature has already been a breeding ground for bacteria. It is not safe to use it anymore. Raw chicken cannot sit out for more than two hours before going bad. So leaving raw chicken left overnight is a stretch. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to food safety, you can never be too careful. Learn to look out for the signs that your raw chicken might already be rotten by observing the chicken’s color, texture, and smell.

Consumption of rotten poultry leads to food poisoning. When in doubt, it is always better to throw the chicken out than risk it.

When it is thawing time, remember that it is never recommended to let the chicken sit out on the counter. You can thaw chicken safely either by leaving it in the fridge, using a cold water bath, or microwave.

Remember, though, that only raw chicken thawed inside the refrigerator can be frozen again. When using any other method, immediate cooking is needed. 

The most important thing to remember is the two-hour rule. This rule states that you should never leave uncooked chicken out of the fridge for more than 2 hours.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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