Can You Leave Cooked Chicken Out Overnight?

by Charlie
Cooked chicken

Chicken meat is always in need of careful handling if it is to be a source of food, not food poisoning, and it’s important to understand the rules and best practices for both raw and cooked chicken meat. If you’ve just cooked a chicken and it won’t fit in your fridge, you might be wondering whether you can leave it out overnight.

Can you leave cooked chicken out overnight? The answer is no, not safely. Cooked chicken should be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked to ensure that no bacteria starts breeding in it. If you leave chicken out for longer than this and bacteria starts to spread, it could make you very ill when you eat the chicken, even if you reheat it.

How Long Can You Leave Chicken at Room Temperature?

You should not leave chicken at room temperature for more than two hours at the most. This is assuming that the chicken has just been cooked and was fresh when cooked. Chicken that has already been in the fridge may need to be used up even more quickly.

If room temperature is above 90 degrees F where you live, you should not leave chicken on the counter for more than an hour, because the bacteria will start breeding in the flesh much more quickly at warm temperatures, and will spread fast.

If you have accidentally left chicken out and you aren’t sure how long it has been at room temperature for, you should throw it away. It is not a good idea to eat it unless you are sure that it’s safe, as food poisoning from meat can be very serious. Don’t take the risk by eating chicken that may have gone off.

How Long Can You Keep Cooked Chicken in the Fridge?

If refrigerated promptly, chicken can be kept in the fridge for three to four days, depending on how fresh the chicken was when it was cooked. If you are reheating it, avoid taking the whole chicken out to reheat unless it will all be consumed in one batch.

You should not reheat chicken more than once, so if the chicken is not all going to be eaten, it is best to only take out what you will use for that meal. The rest can be left in the fridge, and should be good to eat on another day.

Can You Freeze Cooked Chicken?

Yes, you can freeze cooked chicken! This is a great way to reduce your food waste and ensure that all the meat gets used up. If you have cooked a chicken and you aren’t sure whether you’ll use it all, portion parts up for the freezer, eliminating all waste.

You can easily divide the chicken into freezer bags or plastic containers for use in soups or sandwiches or curries, and this will prevent any of the chicken from being wasted by being left out, or even kept in the fridge for too long.

Cooked chicken should last for up to four months in the freezer. It will probably still be fine to eat even after that point, but it may lose some of its quality and texture.

How Do You Know If Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad?

If in doubt, the safest course of action is not to eat the chicken, but if you’re unsure about some cooked chicken, you should inspect, smell, and touch the chicken. This will give you a good idea as to whether it is still okay to eat or not.

The first thing to do is visually inspect the chicken. If it has gone off, it may have a gray film over it, or there may be little white or blue flecks on the meat. You should be able to see them, especially where the skin has been broken or removed.

The second thing is to smell it. Rotten meat has a powerful, off-putting odor. Humans find this unpleasant because we have evolved not to eat things that will make us sick – like rotten meat. If the chicken doesn’t smell good to you, throw it away.

If you still can’t tell, touch the chicken. The skin may have gone wet or slimy, and this is again an indication that it is not safe to eat anymore. It is best not to taste chicken that you aren’t sure about, even if you plan to spit the sample out, as you might still get bacteria in your mouth.

It probably wouldn’t be enough to make you very sick, but it’s best to be cautious and not risk it.

Bear in mind that chicken may not show any detectable signs of being off, even if it is.

The bacteria may be completely undetectable to you, so you shouldn’t use just your senses to determine whether it can be eaten safely or not. These are a secondary guide that should warn you if the chicken is not safe to eat – but shouldn’t be used to determine that it is.

It is much safer to use fixed rules about how long chicken can safely be stored for. If it has been out on the counter for less than two hours, it should be safe to eat. Otherwise, it should be discarded.

Will Reheating Chicken Kill the Bacteria?

Reheating meat is a good way to kill bacteria, but this is not sufficient if the bacteria has really spread. Even if you kill it, it could still be dangerous to consume, so you can’t just stick a contaminated chicken in the oven or microwave and expect it to be safe to eat as a result of being reheated.

It is a good idea to make reheated chicken nice and hot throughout before you eat it, but don’t use this to try and get rid of bacterial infections.

Final Thoughts

You cannot leave cooked chicken out overnight, no. Food borne bacteria will start to spread in the flesh after just a couple of hours. Chicken must always be refrigerated as soon as possible, reducing the spread of bacteria and keeping the chicken safe to consume for the maximum amount of time.

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