How Long Can Cooked Chicken Be Unrefrigerated?

If you are unsure about the duration for which cooked chicken can be kept without refrigeration, don’t worry! This article will provide you with useful tips on how to store cooked chicken and address some frequently asked queries.

According to food safety guidelines, cooked chicken can be left unrefrigerated for a maximum of three hours in hot and humid conditions. However, during colder months, this time frame extends to around nine hours. It is recommended to avoid consuming cooked chicken that has been kept at room temperature for more than two hours as it can lead to food poisoning.

Furthermore, it is not advisable to keep cooked chicken in its initial wrapping.

What Happens if I Eat Chicken That Was Left Out Overnight?

If you consume chicken that has been left unrefrigerated overnight, the outcome is straightforward – you may contract food poisoning.

Leaving cooked chicken at room temperature for an extended period, such as overnight, can create a food safety risk due to the growth of bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter on the meat.

If cooked chicken is left out of the refrigerator for too long, bacteria such as Campylobacter can rapidly multiply and contaminate any food it touches, leading to serious illness if consumed.

Symptoms of food poisoning from these bacteria include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps

Experiencing fever, headache, and muscle pain is possible in some cases, particularly with Campylobacter infections. If you encounter any of these symptoms after consuming chicken that was left unrefrigerated overnight, it is recommended to seek medical assistance.

The CDC reports that foodborne illnesses are the primary source of sickness and mortality in the United States. Annually, 1 out of every 6 people in America is affected by food poisoning. This results in at least 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually!

Campylobacter is the primary source of foodborne illness in the United States, with Salmonella responsible for roughly 19% of cases. All together, these two bacteria make up 76% of all food poisoning.

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The ingestion of unrefrigerated cooked chicken poses a genuine risk of consuming:

  • Salmonella
  • Campylobacter
  • Other bacteria 

While it is not possible for fungi to grow on your food overnight, bacteria can grow and cause food poisoning, making it a greater concern than fungus.

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

Individuals inquire about the safety of refrigerating cooked chicken to prevent spoilage. Although some may believe that cooled leftovers are harmless, there is still a risk of bacterial proliferation.

Raw or undercooked meat may contain bacteria, and if cooked chicken is not refrigerated within two hours of cooking, these bacteria can re-grow.

How Can You Tell if Chicken Left Unrefrigerated Has Gone Bad?

If you have ever left cooked chicken at room temperature and were uncertain about its safety for consumption, you are not the only one. Identifying whether the chicken has gone bad can be challenging, but it primarily relies on the duration and handling of the food.

When determining if cooked chicken can be left unrefrigerated, it is important to first check the package date as chicken that is over 24 hours old may have started to spoil. Additionally, inspect the meat’s color and smell for any changes since purchase.

If the cooked chicken emits a foul odor, even after being cooked thoroughly, it is likely to be spoiled. The ideal color of the chicken should be light pinkish-gray, and it should have a mild and pleasant aroma.

If the cooked chicken appears dehydrated or has changed its color to dark brown, it may be necessary to discard it.

One should also inspect the chicken for any signs of slime, as it could be an indication that bacteria has started to grow on the surface of the chicken, which can lead to illness if ingested at a later time.

In general, the following are signs your unrefrigerated chicken went bad:

  • Cooked chicken that has been left unrefrigerated for too long may emit a foul odor.
  • The chicken may have an abnormal coloration such as pink, brown, or black.
  • It is possible to observe a greenish slime on either the meat or its packaging
  • Bloated or having gas bubbles are possible indications of the chicken’s condition.
  • It is possible to observe the development of mold on either the meat or its packaging.
  • When the chicken is sliced, its interior may appear oily or moist.
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If you are uncertain about the freshness of cooked chicken, it is recommended to dispose of it to avoid any potential cases of food poisoning. It is always better to err on the side of caution.

How Should You Store Cooked Chicken?

Adhering to appropriate food handling practices can enable you to relish your remaining cooked chicken. Bacteria are unable to thrive in extreme temperatures. While it may be expensive to keep the chicken hot for extended periods, it is advisable to do so only during intimate gatherings or cozy events with visitors.

It is recommended to keep cooked chicken in a sealed container or plastic bag, or wrap it tightly with aluminum foil. Within an hour of cooking, store the sealed chicken in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria growth and avoid getting sick.

There are ways to prolong the shelf life of cooked chicken if refrigeration is not immediately possible, but it should be noted that these methods are only effective for a limited time period following the chicken’s preparation.

The best way to preserve cooked chicken is to freeze it before its refrigeration expiration date, ideally within two hours of cooking. The frozen chicken can be safely stored for up to three months and consumed later.

If you want to store your cooked chicken in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours, you can place an ice pack next to it while keeping the wrapped food item on a shelf inside.

If you have cooked chicken leftovers from a big meal, one option is to keep them in a cooler with ice packs outside of the fridge. This method can work well, but it’s important to note that it’s only recommended for transporting food for less than four hours.

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If you opt to use a crockpot or slow cooker, the cooked chicken can be kept warm and safe to consume for a maximum of four hours.

If you want to know how to store cooked chicken, it will depend on why you need to make it last longer and the situation. However, it is important to keep in mind that storing cooked chicken in its original packaging is not recommended.

Proper Food Handling and Refrigeration

Leftover chicken is commonly consumed at home or in private settings, but it would violate health codes for hotels and restaurants to do so. To reheat cooked chicken, businesses must adhere to numerous regulations set by the Department of Health in New York City to ensure the safety of consumers from harmful bacteria.

When it comes to handling leftover chicken at home, there are not many regulations or guidelines to follow. However, it is important to remember that cooked chicken should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours as this can create an environment for bacteria to thrive and potentially cause illness.

According to the USDA, it is advisable to refrigerate cooked chicken within an hour of cooking. You can keep it in a sealed container or plastic bag, or wrap it tightly with aluminum foil. Additionally, the USDA suggests reheating the chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate any harmful bacteria.

You can also check this video about “How Long Can Cooked Chicken Be Unrefrigerated?”

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