How long can chicken sit out? What makes poultry products go bad quickly? How do you properly handle these products to ensure that you and your family are safe from foodborne illness?
These are important questions not many people may know the answers to.
When it comes to spoiled chicken, it doesn’t matter whether the chicken is cooked or uncooked. You can only keep it at a certain amount of time in the fridge before it’s starting to spoil. When this happens, obviously the food is no longer safe to eat or safe to cook.
However, these signs can be very subtle. How do you know exactly when you’re saving yourself and your loved ones from becoming sick or when you are wasting money and resources by throwing good food away? Here are ways to find out.
Should You Toss Chicken it or Keep it?
Perishable food such as meats has to be preserved properly or they will no longer be viable for cooking or eating. Whether it is raw or cooked, food may already be contaminated by harmful bacteria long before its scent indicates spoilage.
The general rule is to chuck out cooked or uncooked perishable food if they have been left at room temperature for more than two hours. This window of time is shorter if the food is left in a warmer environment. Also, always pay attention to the date on the package, not just the sell by date.
There are three major factors that are at play when it comes to food safety:
Temperature plays a big role in how soon spoilage can set in. If you are planning to use it in a couple of days, it is best to keep the meat in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leaving the chicken in temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit exposes it to different bacteria. Leaving your chicken, or any meat products, for that matter, on your kitchen counter creates the ground for bacteria to breed on.
Raw or cooked foods that have been removed from the freezer, freezer bag, fridge, or iced cooler for more than two hours should be thrown out. Even if the food doesn’t smell, it is very likely breeding bacteria.
Be careful with picnic food as well, if the food has been taken out of the fridge or iced cooler for more than two hours, it is most likely no longer safe to eat.
On balmy days, however, even two hours may be too long. Sometimes, the room temperature may be so high that chicken – cooked or not, can turn out bad in less than two hours.
Since the meat doesn’t smell at this point, there is no way of telling whether it is still good or not.
Since the two-hour rule may not be applicable in this case, you can turn to the second rule, that is – if in doubt, chuck it out. You should not take any chances in food that has likely turned bad.
Another important thing is to keep in mind is that food is highly susceptible to going bad in temperature higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Refrigeration and Freezing Chicken
The general rule is that raw meats, chicken specifically, can stay for one to two days in the refrigerator. If the meat has been in the refrigerator for more than that, it is better to throw it away.
Cooked chicken, on the other hand, can stay for about three to four days in the refrigerator. Longer than this, it is likely not safe for consumption.
If you cannot cook the chicken you bought right away, you can freeze it. Raw whole chicken can stay frozen for up to one year. Raw chicken cutlets, on the other hand, can stay frozen for up to nine months.
Cooked leftovers don’t stay this long in the freezer. Frozen leftovers should be consumed within two to six months. Frozen cooked leftovers also will not taste as good once defrosted. Thus, freeze leftovers only when absolutely necessary.
Rotten Poultry Leads to these Health Problems
Unfortunately, spoiled chicken, especially when cooked, may not give clear cues that it has turned bad. They don’t always have a bad smell or the visual signs. In some scenarios, you may have even forgotten how long the chicken or other meats have been left out.
To play it safe, it is best to toss out anything that you suspect had been left out for too long. Remember that eating or cooking meat that has gone bad leads to serious health problems such as fever, joint pains, and chills.
These problems are caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas, which is responsible for the food spoilage.
Other health problems include urinary tract infection, vomiting, and nausea can be caused by the bacteria Putrefaciens. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting are possible symptoms of the ingestion of the Salmonella bacteria.
In some cases, contamination in the meat also leads to kidney failure, which is caused by E Coli.
Tips to Avoid Buying Rotten Chicken
Sometimes, even if you stick to the two-hour rule and proper refrigeration and freezing, you still end up with rotten meat. This is because there may have been issues with the meat you purchased in the first place.
To avoid this, examine the meat properly and make sure it does not give an off odor or have slime formation. Make sure the packaging is intact and that it doesn’t have leaks or tears. It is also important to see to it the bird has been refrigerated properly.
One way of doing this is to buy chicken from reputable distributors or markets. It is highly recommendable to cook the meat above 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Properly cooking the meat kills bacteria.
For leftovers, you need to chill the food as soon as possible at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheits.
The USDA and Food and Drug Administration warns about the dangers of eating spoiled meat. Any meat that is already spoiled, even if cooked properly, still has dangerous health effects. Only consider cooking meat if it does not show signs of sliminess or grayness. These colors could mean that chicken is in the danger zone.
Also, if you can detect ammonia or some kinds of rancid odor from the meat, do not take chances and just throw it out.
Is it safe to eat chicken that was left out overnight?
No, it isn’t.
Most people think that even when food is left out overnight, all you have to do is reheat it and you’re pretty much good to go. Except, it does not really work that way. I know it can pretty much be frustrating when you leave food out unintentionally. You may have fallen asleep without really meaning to and before you know it, it’s already morning and your food has been left out. Been there, done that.
You may be tempted to just cook it or reheat it but the truth is, you never know how many bacteria have multiplied during the time that it was left out overnight. These bacteria release toxins and no matter how much you reheat it, it will not destroy the toxins.
How long can cooked chicken sit out at room temp?
Now that I have already established that chicken or pretty much any cooked food cannot be left out in the open overnight, let’s find out then how many hours exactly can cooked chicken stay out at room temperature.
There’s this term that the USDA calls the Danger Zone. This is basically the range of temperature that is the most dangerous for food that is left out in the open. The specific temperature range that is harmful is between 40 F and 140 F. This is the temp range where any cooked food is most vulnerable to bacteria. That said, cooked chicken can only sit out for no more than two hours. Additionally, if the temp is beyond 90 F, it is best to only leave it out for no more than an hour.
How long can frozen chicken sit out before it spoils?
The answer to this depends on a number of details. Assuming that you kept your chicken inside a sealed container while out, there is a chance that it is still good to go after a couple of hours. However, I would advise that you don’t risk it. This also goes for a temperature that is not warm. If it’s too hot, then chances are it has already thawed after a few hours. To be safe, I just use a thermometer to measure your chicken’s temp. If the chicken is still below 45 F, then your chicken is still good to go. And as a rule of thumb, the frozen chicken should not be out for any more than two hours.
Can chicken be left out overnight to thaw?
I would advise against this. Frozen food cannot even be left out for no more than two hours, much less overnight. It is always best to thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator. Just take them out of the freezer. You may let it sit out for around 30 minutes to an hour before cooking them.
To Round Up
Our digestive system is in no shape to handle bacteria from rotten food. This is why extra care should be given in purchasing, storing, and cooking the food that we eat. Remember that ingesting rotten food can have lethal consequences.
At the end of the day, it is better to throw away food that is no longer good for consumption than to suffer the consequences.