Baked chicken makes a versatile entree for informal and formal meals. But like all poultry, raw chicken may contain dangerous bacteria. Proper baking kills bacteria found on the bird -- namely salmonella. However, baked chicken must be served promptly, held at safe temperatures and stored properly to avoid spreading food-borne illnesses.
When you bake chicken to serve the same day, if it's baked properly -- meaning, it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit and holds that temperature for at least 15 seconds before you take it out of the oven -- the bird's still good to eat even if you wait two hours to serve it. If you must step out of the kitchen, cover the baked chicken and stash it back in the oven. As a precaution, use your food thermometer to check it before you sit down to dinner. Press the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding the bone. If it reads 140 F or lower -- the temperatures at which bacteria spreads rapidly -- heat the chicken back up to 165 F before serving it.
Overnight or Longer
Baked chicken can be stored safely in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can use it to make cold food such as sandwiches and salads, as long you consume them while the chicken's still cold. Return salads and prepared sandwiches to the refrigerator until you're ready to serve them, preferably on the same day as you make them.
If you've been tapped to prepare baked chicken for a group function, you'll have to monitor food temperatures closely. If the occasion is informal enough, set the baked chicken in a chafing dish or on a stove. Keep your food thermometer handy and check the baked chicken's temperature regularly -- ideally every 30 minutes. Don't leave the chicken for more than two hours without checking it, and reheat it in the microwave if it cools down. Provide enough serving spoons and tongs and monitor the food service area to discourage attendees from using chicken utensils to serve other dishes; mixing utensils can spread bacteria fast.
Even if you didn't eat all of your chicken and you don't like wasting food, if it has been in the refrigerator for more than four days, throw it out. The same goes for chicken that's been sitting on a buffet unheated for two hours or more. While every body has a different tolerance for old food, note that pregnant women, children and the elderly are especially susceptible to poultry-related food poisoning.