Keeping warm (or hot) chicken in the fridge prevents the growth and multiplication of microorganisms that can cause problems later on.
Bacteria like salmonella, staphylococcus and ecoli have been known to contaminate exposed food.
Can you put warm chicken in the fridge?
Yes, warm chicken can be kept in the refrigerator. In fact, it is recommended to keep your chicken in the fridge while it is still warm to prevent spoiling.
What About Hot Chicken?
So, where does the rumor that you can’t put warm food in the refrigerator come from?
It comes from a misunderstanding of what can be described as hot or warm food. While both are subjective terms, there are still clear ways to differentiate either.
Warm items are only slightly above room temperature.
While they’re clearly hotter than the room temperature, they’re not hot enough to scald the skin or produce a quick withdrawing reaction when touched.
Hot items, on the other hand, are significantly hotter and can be scalding to the skin when touched.
Temperature-wise, you can treat food items below 35°C (95°F) as warm while anything above can be regarded as hot.
While some refrigerators may be able to handle hot food, the rule of thumb is to avoid keeping hot meals in your fridge.
This is primarily because hot food makes the refrigerator work harder to keep the temperature down.
Hot chicken, in particular, is prone to spoiling when kept in the fridge.
This is because the food will warm up the air in the fridge, and the resulting temperature can lead to the growth of bacteria in the food.
In some cases, it can even ruin other fruits and veggies you had in the fridge.
How Long After Cooking Chicken before I Can Put It in the Fridge?
Since hot chicken is bad for your fridge, you have to wait for it to cool down. However, knowing how long to wait is also important. Waiting too long can cause even more problems.
The rule of thumb with cooked chicken is to allow it to cool down for about two hours. After two hours, you can then transfer it to the refrigerator.
If chicken stays longer than two hours after being cooked, it enters what is known as the “danger zone”.
This term refers to temperatures where the chicken is neither warm nor cold.
Typically, the danger zone is regarded as being between 5° C and 60° C.
In the danger zone, bacteria are very active and multiply faster.
Allowing your chicken cool into the danger zone can result in contamination of the food.
If you are in a hurry, you can fast track the cooling down of your chicken by using ice or chopping it up in smaller pieces.
How Long Can You Leave Cooked Chicken in the Fridge?
Freezing chicken helps you preserve it by slowing down the bacteria in it. When most bacteria encounter cold conditions, they become slower, and this affects their reproduction rate. However, there’s only so much your refrigerator can do.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), raw chicken should be kept in the fridge for only 1-2 days. Cooked chicken, on the other hand, can last up to four days in the fridge.
Leaving your chicken in the fridge for more than four days will result in it going bad.
Some of the signs you should look out for chicken going bad to include a slimy texture, change in color and weird smells.
Once you notice that your cooked chicken is going bad, dispose of it. Bad chicken is typically contaminated by bacteria, and eating them can result in food poisoning, which can lead to hospitalizations.
Best Practices for Storing Cooked Chicken in the Fridge
After cooking chicken, it’s important to properly store it to prevent bacterial growth and ensure it stays fresh for as long as possible. Here are some best practices for storing cooked chicken in the fridge:
- Cool the chicken quickly: To minimize the amount of time that the chicken spends in the “danger zone” temperature range (between 40°F and 140°F), it’s important to cool it down as quickly as possible. You can do this by placing the chicken in an ice bath, using a fan to cool it, or cutting it into smaller pieces to increase the surface area and promote faster cooling.
- Store the chicken in an airtight container: To prevent contamination and keep the chicken from drying out, store it in an airtight container. You can use a plastic container with a lid or a resealable plastic bag. Be sure to remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing it.
- Label the container with the date: To keep track of how long the chicken has been in the fridge, label the container with the date that it was cooked. Cooked chicken can be stored in the fridge for up to four days.
- Store the chicken on a lower shelf: To prevent any drips or spills from contaminating other food items in the fridge, store the chicken on a lower shelf. If possible, store it on a plate or in a shallow dish to catch any juices.
- Use the chicken within four days: Cooked chicken should be used within four days of being stored in the fridge. If you’re not sure if the chicken is still good, look for signs of spoilage such as a foul odor, slimy texture, or discoloration.
By following these best practices, you can ensure that your cooked chicken stays fresh and safe to eat for as long as possible.
What Happens If You Store Chicken in the Fridge for Too Long?
Storing cooked chicken in the fridge for too long can lead to spoilage and potential foodborne illness. Here are some of the things that can happen if you store chicken in the fridge for too long:
- Bacterial growth: As cooked chicken sits in the fridge, any bacteria that might be present can start to multiply. This can lead to spoilage and potentially harmful levels of bacteria, which can cause foodborne illness.
- Loss of flavor and texture: Even if the chicken is still safe to eat, storing it for too long can lead to a loss of flavor and texture. The chicken may become dry, tough, or mushy, making it less enjoyable to eat.
- Foul odor: If the chicken has started to spoil, it may give off a foul odor. This is a sign that the chicken should not be eaten and should be discarded.
- Risk of foodborne illness: If you eat chicken that has been stored in the fridge for too long, you may be at risk for foodborne illness. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
To avoid these issues, it’s important to use cooked chicken within four days of storing it in the fridge. If you’re not going to use the chicken within that time frame, consider freezing it instead. When reheating chicken, make sure it’s heated to an internal temperature of 165°F to kill any bacteria that might be present.
Does Cooking Chicken Kill All of the Bacteria?
Bacteria is the main enemy of your chicken. It is naturally found everywhere and has a preference for feeding on organic materials like chicken.
However, when you ingest these bacteria, especially in high doses, they become poisonous.
Raw chicken carries the salmonella bacteria, which makes the procedure for cooking and storing very important.
Cooking chicken can help kill most of the bacteria in it. However, this can only happen when the food is cooked thoroughly and at the right internal temperature.
The cooking method, type of chicken and the length of cooking time are the most important determinants in whether your food is safe to eat or not. Roasting chicken typically takes longer than simmering or grilling.
For all cooking methods, it is recommended that you cook the chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165°F.
What is the 4 hour/2 hour Rule?
The 4 hour/2 hour rule is something you might come across a lot when researching how to store cooked chicken.
It is the globally accepted rule of thumb for dealing with cooked food that you want to refrigerate.
The rule is based on how fast it takes bacteria to grow on food and how quickly the food can become dangerous to consume.
The 4 hour/2 hour rule says that if cooked food is left at room temperature for under 2 hours, it is safe to use or refrigerate. Between 2 hours to 4 hours, the food is still okay to use but not ideal. However, once the food has been left at room temperature for more than 4 hours, it is no longer safe to eat and should be thrown away.
Also known as the 2 hours/4 hour rule, this preventive measure applies to a specific class of foods.
It specifically applies to foods like containing cooked meat, dairy, cooked veggies and fruits, rice, pasta and processed foods containing eggs. Once you’re holding these foods at room temperature, you have to be conscious of the rule.
Chicken is a staple in most homes, and most people eat it quite often.
Seeing as you will be eating chicken for the considerable future, here are some thoughts we want you to take away from reading this:
- Warm chicken can be kept in the fridge.
- After cooking your chicken, you should not let it exceed two hours of cooling before transferring to the fridge.
- Cooking chicken kills most of the bacteria in it. However, it has to be done thoroughly and at the right temperature.
- The 4 hour/2 hour rule is a rule guiding the cooking and storage of foods like chicken. It allows us to avoid bacteria infections by telling us to eat while the food is still safe.