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How Long Can Chicken Stay Out Without Getting Spoiled?

by Jonae Fredericks

Proper handling of poultry products is essential to keeping you and those that you care about from becoming sick. Raw chicken, cooked chicken and even recipes made with chicken only keep in optimal conditions for a recommended amount of time before spoilage sets in, rendering the food items no longer safe to eat. Leaving chicken out in temperatures that are less than optimal decreases the time it takes for the meat to spoil.


Temperature plays a role in determining how well chicken keeps. Refrigerating chicken in temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below is best if you plan to eat the chicken within a few days. Temperatures above 40 degrees F create an environment that makes it easy for bacteria on the chicken to grow and multiply. Chicken left out too long on the counter or out on a picnic table is vulnerable to these bacteria and prone to spoilage.

Spoiling Time

Raw or cooked, chicken must be discarded after two hours without refrigeration. Even if you are thawing chicken on the counter or storing it in a covered dish at a barbecue, the two-hour rule holds true. On extra balmy days, it is wise to pay attention to how long chicken stays out. If the air temperature is above 90 degrees F, chicken spoils within an hour, requiring disposal.

Effects of Consuming Spoiled Chicken

Bacteria can grow to dangerous levels on chicken left out at room temperature or above. These bacteria are responsible for foodborne illnesses that cause nausea, upset stomach, vomiting and in severe cases, death. Women who are pregnant, elderly individuals, young children and those with immune systems compromised by illness or medications are especially vulnerable to foodborne illness. If you are unsure whether chicken is unrefrigerated for longer than recommended, it is best not to eat it.

Refrigerate or Freeze

Raw chicken keeps for one to two days in the refrigerator, cooked chicken for three to four days. After this time, throw it away. If you cannot cook or eat chicken within this period, freeze it. A whole, raw chicken remains safe to eat for up to 1 year in the freezer; raw chicken parts remain safe for 9 months. Leftover prepared chicken can keep for two to six months in the freezer.

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