Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, some people still prefer to cook their own meals at home rather than going out to restaurants.
If you’ve cooked chicken ahead of time or made a quick meal using leftover meat, you might wonder whether it’s safe to keep it in the fridge without reheating it.
It is important to remember that cooked chicken is not necessarily safe to eat after two hours.
If you haven’t eaten any of your prepared chicken within two hours and then decide to store it in the refrigerator overnight, you run the risk of making yourself sick with bacteria that could contaminate your food.
Here’s what you need to know about how to handle cooked chicken that was left out overnight so you don’t end up getting sick.
Is it safe to eat cooked chicken that was left out overnight?
The answer depends on where you live.
In the United States and Canada, there aren’t any federal regulations governing how long cooked chicken can be stored in the fridge.
The only thing that matters is whether the chicken has been contaminated by harmful bacteria.
While it’s generally considered safe to eat raw chicken, cooked chicken can become tainted with bacterial contamination when it’s left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours.
This is true even if the chicken was previously frozen or dried out, as bacteria like to grow during this period.
In addition to being potentially dangerous, left-out cooked chicken can also make you sick.
Even if you don’t feel ill right away, it’s possible to develop an infection from the bacteria that grows while the chicken is sitting out.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, fever, chills, and fatigue.
Chicken that’s been sitting out for longer than two hours will likely taste spoiled, so don’t expect it to taste good.
It’s best to throw it out immediately and avoid further contact with the bacteria that grew.
What are the risks of eating cooked chicken that was left out overnight?
As mentioned earlier, cooked chicken that’s been sitting out for more than two hours can pose a health risk.
Bacterial contamination can cause food poisoning symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, headache, fever, chills, and fatigue.
Eating food that’s been contaminated with E.
coli or Salmonella can lead to severe illness or death.
You can also contract Salmonella from raw eggs or foods that were cooked in a pan containing raw egg yolks.
Salmonella can be easily spread through the air, so it’s best to avoid touching your face after handling raw meat or poultry.
Salmonella can survive for weeks in soil or water, so wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with these surfaces.
How long can cooked chicken be left out before it becomes unsafe to eat?
There’s no official regulation regarding how long cooked chicken can be kept in the fridge, but most experts agree that you shouldn’t keep it there for more than two hours.
That said, this recommendation doesn’t apply to all types of chicken.
Some varieties of chicken tend to dry out faster than others, which makes them less suitable for keeping out of the refrigerator for extended periods of time.
In general, whole chickens, boneless chicken breasts, and shredded chicken breasts are safe to keep out of the refrigerator for up to three days.
Whole legs, thighs, wings, and drumsticks can be safely frozen for up to one month.
When freezing chicken, you should always thaw it completely before cooking.
Frozen chicken should never be defrosted partially because it may take longer to cook.
What are the signs that cooked chicken has gone bad?
If you notice any of the following signs, it’s probably time to toss the chicken:
- Discoloration around the perimeter of the pan
- A strong odor
- Leaves floating in the broth
- Soggy skin
- Rancid flavor
- Broken bones
What should you do if you accidentally leave cooked chicken out overnight?
If you’re worried about the safety of your cooked chicken, you should dispose of it promptly.
Don’t let it sit out for more than two hours, and don’t try to salvage it by reheating it.
Instead, use the chicken to prepare something new.
For example, you can use the carcass to make stock or soup.
Can you get food poisoning from eating cooked chicken that was left out overnight?
Yes, it’s possible to contract food poisoning from eating cooked chicken that was left out overnight.
If you ate any of the chicken after leaving it out for more than two hours, you’ll likely experience similar symptoms—though they may be milder since the bacteria has already had time to multiply.
If you’re experiencing serious symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
How can you tell if cooked chicken has been left out too long?
You can test the chicken for bacteria by cutting off a small piece and putting it into a cup of warm water.
After ten minutes, check the sample for signs of growth.
If the water turns cloudy, then the chicken is likely safe to eat.
However, if the liquid remains clear, then discard the chicken immediately.
If you plan to serve the chicken soon, rinse the bowl and plate used to hold the chicken thoroughly to remove any remaining bacteria.
For more information, read our article on how to clean and sanitize your kitchen equipment.
Is it better to err on the side of caution and throw away cooked chicken that was left out overnight?
Cooking chicken ahead of time is a great way to save money and reduce waste, especially if you’re feeding a large group of people.
There’s no reason to throw away perfectly edible chicken just because you forgot to put it back in the fridge after preparing it.
To ensure that you won’t make yourself sick or give anyone else food poisoning, follow these guidelines for storing cooked chicken:
Make sure the chicken is fully cooked before you pack it away.
Store the chicken in its original container.
Refrigerate the chicken within two hours of cooking.
Don’t reuse plastic utensils or pans used to cook the chicken unless they’ve been cleaned properly.
Wash your hands after handling raw meats.
- 1 Pan
- 1 pound chicken breast boneless skinless
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Garlic powder
- Chili powder
- Cumin powder
- Onion powder
- Lemon juice
- Sour cream
- Cilantro leaves
- Avocado slices
- Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken’s two sides.
- In a pan over medium heat, warm some olive oil.
- Add the onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin powder to the pan.
- Remove the spices from the pan once they begin to become golden brown and set them aside.
- Chicken is added after extra olive oil is added to the pan.
- The chicken should cook for 5 minutes on each side before being placed back in the pan.
- Stir the chicken after adding lemon juice to it.
- The pan should be covered with foil and baked for 15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake for an additional ten minutes with the foil removed.
- Remove the chicken, let it to rest for two minutes, then cut.