We’ve all done it – rushed home from the grocery store, popped the shopping bags down, and realized hours later that we left our groceries out on the counter!
But what about that pack of raw chicken that you bought? You may be tempted to just pop it into the fridge – after all, what harm can it do?
But how long can raw chicken sit out for? Raw chicken can only be left out of the fridge for no more than two hours – or just one hour if the temperature is above 90°F. After this time, your raw chicken is no longer safe to eat and must be discarded.
But why is chicken so risky? We have got all the answers and more for you!
We will also take a look at how to store raw chicken safely and give you some tips on what to do if you can’t refrigerate your raw chicken immediately after purchase.
How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out?
We’re all pretty hot on food safety these days and wouldn’t consider eating or serving something which might be past its best.
However, raw chicken can only be left to sit out for no more than two hours before it must be discarded – and this reduces to one hour in warmer temperatures!
Think about it – one hour. Just one hour to finish your shopping in the store, pay for your purchases at the cashier, pack your shopping bags, get home, unpack your shopping, and put your chicken in the fridge.
And that is if you do not get delayed or have other errands to run!
But the guidelines for raw chicken are extremely clear – within two hours (or one if you are in a warmer region) your raw chicken must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Why Does Raw Chicken Go Bad So Quickly?
Two factors cause raw chicken to go bad quickly if left out:
At temperatures of 40°F and above, bacteria and microorganisms will start to multiply 4-5 times faster.
This allows toxic bacteria to breed to the point that the raw chicken becomes rotten and is completely inedible.
Exposing raw chicken to air can create a bacteria density at levels of twice or more than raw chicken stored in a sealed container.
What happens when raw chicken is left out for too long?
Initially, you might not notice there is anything wrong with your raw chicken if it has just been left out for a few hours. However, this is long enough for bacteria to have multiplied to levels that will cause foodborne illness.
At this point your chicken is no longer safe to eat – some of these bacteria will not be destroyed during the cooking process, and there is a high risk of food poisoning.
Chilling or freezing your raw chicken will also just slow down the reproduction of the bacteria, and will not kill them.
Once the bacteria have multiplied to these levels it will take no time at all for your raw chicken to become slimy, putrid, and begin rotting – when this occurs there is no way you would ever consider eating it!
Health Problems Caused By Raw Chicken
So, what could happen if you unwittingly cooked some raw chicken which had started to turn bad? Unfortunately, when is cooked it may look tasty and delicious, but some nasty bacteria may be lurking under the surface ….
Cooking meat which has gone bad does not destroy the bacteria and microorganisms, and these can lead to serious health problems such as gastrointestinal upsets, joint pains, chills, and fever.
These are just some of the hidden nasties lurking in raw chicken and the problems they can cause:
- Pseudomonas – chills, fever, and joint pain.
- Putrefaciens – urinary tract infections, nausea, and vomiting.
- Salmonella – diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
- Escherichia Coli – kidney failure.
Whilst most healthy people can ingest small amounts of these bacteria and microorganisms without any ill effects, other people may be more susceptible.
People with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, young children and the elderly can all become severely ill as a result of ingesting bad chicken.
How Can You Tell If Raw Chicken Is Spoiled?
The quick answer is you cannot always tell if raw chicken is spoiled!
Raw chicken left out for an hour or two may look, smell and feel completely normal, but harmful bacteria and microorganisms will already have multiplied to the point that the chicken is unfit for consumption.
If in doubt, throw it out!
But what if you’re not sure how long your raw chicken has been left out for? Perhaps another member of the household took it out by accident? There are some tell-tale signs that raw chicken is spoiled and going rotten:
Raw chicken which is rotten gives off a characteristic sulfur-like smell when it goes bad. This smell is caused by spoilage of the meat due to dangerous bacteria. Raw, fresh chicken should have a very mild smell or none at all.
Raw chicken which is rotten will have a green or grey tinge to the flesh, and the fat will start to turn yellow in color. Fresh raw chicken will be light pink, with white fatty pieces.
It is normal for the pinkness to fade or darken as part of the normal aging process of the meat.
Changes in texture are a tell-tale sign that your raw chicken has started to go bad.
Rotten chicken will feel slimy, tacky, or sticky to the touch – this is an indication that bacteria are accumulating on the surface of the chicken and that tissue breakdown is occurring.
Fresh raw chicken has a soft, dry glossy texture.
Remember – you may not see any of these signs that your raw chicken has gone bad, but this does not mean it is OK to eat! If in any doubt at all, throw it out and find something else to eat.
How To Safely Leave Raw Chicken Out At Room Temperature
If you have got some raw chicken either from the store or in your fridge, you may need to leave it out at room temperature for some time. Let’s take a look at the best way to do this safely:
The absolute maximum time your raw chicken can sit out is for two hours at temperatures below 90°F, and 1 hour at temperatures above 90°F.
Remember this is the maximum time – the sooner your raw chicken goes into the fridge or oven the better.
Some recipes call for meat to be at room temperature at the start of the cooking process. This helps the chicken to cook evenly right from the start.
A whole chicken can be lifted out of the fridge half an hour before cooking, and smaller chicken pieces will need just 15 minutes.
If buying chicken from the store, make the butchery counter your last stop and transport your chicken home immediately afterward.
Room temperature is critical to how long chicken can sit out safely. It might sound hot, but on a sunny day, it is not unrealistic for temperatures of 90 degrees to be reached – especially on a work surface near a sunny window!
Keep the room temperature as low as possible, making use of shaded cool areas for your raw chicken. Chicken purchased from the store can be chilled with frozen goods, ice packs, or a cool box in the car during the journey home.
Remember that it is not just warm temperatures that cause raw chicken to spoil – exposure to air is also a large factor. Keep your raw chicken covered up at all times, ideally in an airtight bag or container.
One clever tip is to place your chicken on a plate in the fridge, either inside the container or underneath it. When you lift the raw chicken out of the fridge the plate will help to keep it chilled until you are ready to cook it.
As a bonus, it will also catch any juices which leak from the chicken!
How Long Can Chicken Sit Out In The Fridge?
The general rule is that raw chicken can sit out in the refrigerator for up to two days before cooking or freezing.
It should be stored in an airtight container or bag at the bottom of the fridge, to avoid contamination of other foodstuffs.
Now, this really is not a long amount of time– if you bought chicken this morning, then you need to cook it for dinner either tonight or tomorrow, otherwise, it may well be past its best!
Given the short timeframe, it might be advisable to freeze your fresh raw chicken if you do not have plans to cook it the same day.
What Is The Best Way To Store Raw Chicken?
The best way to store raw chicken depends on how soon you are going to eat it:
- Room temperature – raw chicken which is going to be cooked or frozen within one hour.
- Refrigerator – raw chicken which is going to be cooked or frozen within 48 hours.
- Freezer – long-term storage of chicken for up to one year.
Is It Safe To Eat Chicken That Was Left Out Overnight?
No, it is not safe to eat chicken that has been left out overnight. It may look, smell, and feel OK, but you have no way of telling how many bacteria have started to multiply on the meat.
If in doubt, throw it out!
Now that we’ve taken a look at what to look out for when storing your raw chicken, let’s answer some related questions on the subject!
How long can raw chicken be stored in the freezer?
The best way to store raw chicken is in the freezer – the freezing method means that it can be kept for a significantly longer time without being spoiled.
In the freezer, chicken remains safe to eat indefinitely, although it will deteriorate in quality over time.
Smaller pieces of raw chicken will retain their taste and texture for up to 9 months, and whole chickens for 1 year in the freezer.
Protect your raw chicken from freezer burn by tightly wrapping the chicken in plastic wrap, storage bags, aluminum foil, or airtight storage containers.
How do I defrost raw chicken?
Frozen raw chicken should be defrosted in chilled conditions, such as a refrigerator or cold water bath. Defrosting raw chicken at room temperature can lead to the chicken spoiling and becoming rotten.
The ideal way to defrost raw chicken is overnight in the refrigerator. Once thawed, your raw chicken can remain in the fridge for 1-2 days before cooking.
If you want to eat the chicken the same day, defrost it in a bowl of cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cool. This method takes approximately 2-3 hours to fully defrost a whole chicken.
Chicken can also be thawed out using the defrost setting on the microwave, but it must be cooked immediately afterward. This is because the microwave will start to warm the chicken and bacteria will quickly multiply.
How long can chicken sit out to thaw?
Frozen chicken should not be left to sit out for more than 2 hours. Any longer than this and the meat may become contaminated and start to rot.
It is always best to thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator, but if this is not possible then it can be left out for short periods at room temperature. Make sure that it is in an airtight container, in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
How long does cooked chicken keep for?
Cooked chicken can be kept in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. If you have bought raw chicken and cannot freeze it, then cooking it is an easy way to extend its shelf life.
Cooked chicken can also be stored in the freezer for up to 4 months. However, cooked chicken can quickly deteriorate in taste and texture in the freezer, and must be carefully packaged to protect against freezer burn.
Does raw chicken need to be covered in the fridge?
Raw chicken must be kept covered in the fridge to prevent contamination of other foodstuffs. Bacteria from uncooked foods can circulate easily in the air and contaminate cooked food.
Uncovered foods will also absorb and transmit flavors and odors to and from other foods in the fridge.
Some chefs and recipes advocate leaving raw chicken uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to dry the skin, giving you extra crispiness after roasting.
This does sound delicious but we’re not sure it is worth the risk of contaminating the other foods in your fridge!
How do I handle raw chicken safely?
Many of us feel a bit queasy at the thought of handling raw meat, and it is important to take extreme care to prevent any cross-contamination.
Before you handle raw chicken, ensure that your hands are clean or use a pair of clean kitchen gloves. Use dedicated utensils and chopping boards just for raw meats to avoid the transfer of bacteria to other foodstuffs.
Once you have finished handling your chicken, ensure that the work surface and any utensils used are thoroughly cleaned. You also need to clean the shelf of the fridge where your chicken was stored, and the container from your chicken.
Finally, wash your hands thoroughly using soap or hand wash.
Up Next: Can You Freeze Almond Milk?