How Long Is Cooked Chicken Good For?

Published Categorized as Food
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Know when your chicken is bad. These food safety rules will help you keep yourself and your family safe from food poisoning.

How long your cooked chicken will keep depends on how you store it.

Cooked chicken lasts 1-2 hours at room temperature and 3-4 days in the fridge. Frozen cooked chicken stays safe to eat almost indefinitely, although it begins to dry out and lose flavor after 4 months.

This applies to every type of cooked chicken, including the chicken you cooked yourself, brought back home from a fast food place or your favorite restaurant, or ordered from a meal delivery app.

In other words, whether you just finished cooking the chicken or unwrapped it from the delivery bags, let it cool and refrigerate it as soon as possible if you aren’t going to eat it right away. (Or freeze it for long term storage.)

Refrigerating Cooked Chicken

To refrigerate cooked chicken, wrap it tightly in a paper bag, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap and place it in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator where it is coldest.

Cooked chicken is best reheated in the oven, air fryer, or microwave. Heat the pieces of poultry in your preferred appliance, then remove and serve them when they’re steaming hot.

Freezing Cooked Chicken

To freeze cooked chicken, seal it in a freezer bag or airtight food storage container and label it with today’s date before placing it in the freezer. Remember that frozen chicken tastes best within the first 4 months of freezing, then it slowly but surely dries out.

Never thaw cooked chicken by letting it sit out in the cold stove or on the countertop overnight; by the time it’s defrosted, it will be overgrown with pathogenic bacteria that can make you and the rest of your family sick.

Take the chicken out of the freezer and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, it will be defrosted come lunch or dinner. (Whole chickens take longer to thaw than pieces of chicken; plan accordingly.)

The second best way to defrost cooked chicken is to put it on a microwave-safe plate or bowl and then microwave it on the “Defrost” setting for 2-3 minutes.

Why Chicken Shouldn’t Be Left Out

Don’t leave cooked chicken out on the stovetop, kitchen countertop, or dining room table for more than a couple of hours or it will become unsafe to eat.

The bacteria that grow in our food and cause food poisoning thrive in the temperature range of 40°F (4.4°C) to 140°F (60°C), which food safety experts have dubbed “the danger zone.”

Within this temperature range, the bacteria in our food double in count every 20 minutes. Leave cooked chicken out for a few hours, and a dozen bacteria can easily turn into a few thousand and make you sick.

The thing about the pathogenic bacteria in our food is that they’re stealthy; we can’t see, smell, or taste them. They’re not like spoilage bacteria, which are generally harmless and whose activity is easy to recognize—they make food gross.

Remember this food safety rule: If you left cooked chicken out for more than 1-2 hours, don’t eat it. It may smell and taste perfectly fine, but it can just as well cause potentially life-threatening food poisoning.

Why Frozen Chicken Stays Safe to Eat Almost Indefinitely

Food frozen at 0°F (-18°C) or below stays safe to eat almost indefinitely, the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service writes on its website, because at that temperature the germs on our food stop feeding and reproducing and go into an indefinite period of sleep.

So freezing doesn’t really kill the bacteria in our food, as some home cooks mistakenly think—it only puts them into a state similar to hibernation as long as they remain at freezer temperature or below.

Of course, for this rule to apply, you need to make sure your freezer is in good condition and can maintain a temperature of 0°F (-18°C) or less. Otherwise, you’re just letting food spoil and become unsafe at a very slow pace.

How to Tell If Cooked Chicken Has Spoiled

Common sense and your senses are the only two tools you need to determine whether or not the cooked chicken in your kitchen is spoiled.

If you’ve kept the chicken at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours or in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, you should throw it away. It may already be overgrown with pathogenic bacteria, even if it smells and tastes just fine.

You should also discard the cooked chicken if it shows any of the telltale signs of spoilage. Spoilage bacteria are generally harmless, but the pathogenic bacteria that grow alongside them are not.

Cooked chicken has spoiled when it smells sour, feels sticky, and looks gray, slimy, and mushy. Another unmistakable sign of spoilage are fuzzy spots of green or blue mold on the surface. Cutting away the moldy parts and eating the rest isn’t a good idea.

By Dim Nikov

Cooking for family and friends, one dish at a time. I love to make food that's delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare.