How Long Can You Leave Raw Chicken Out?

Chicken is one of those ingredients that most people cook with on a regular basis, but it’s also one that has a reputation for being dangerous if it’s not handled and cooked properly.

Whether you want to drop your chicken in a marinade on the counter, or you realized you didn’t put one of your grocery bags away, it’s important to know how long you can leave this poultry item out. 

Raw chicken should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. If the temperature is on the warmer side (over 80℉), then you should reduce the time to one hour. If chicken has been out longer than that or if you’re unsure how long it’s been, you should always throw it out to be safe. 

How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out?

Chicken is one of the most temperature sensitive items on your grocery list. It’s well known that chicken has the potential to cause foodborne illness and can spoil fairly quickly if it’s not handled properly. 

Fresh Raw Chicken

Still, there may be times when you leave chicken out on the counter and need to know how long it will be safe.

Or, you may need to run a few errands on your way home for the grocery store and you have chicken in your car. 

Raw chicken should never be out of refrigeration for more than two hours under normal “room temperature” conditions. If you’re outside or in a room where the temperature is above 80℉, you should not leave chicken out for more than one hour.

Of course, it’s always ideal to keep perishable food items in their safe temperature zones all the time.

That means keeping hot foods hot and keeping cold foods cold. For chicken, it will stay safe if you keep it out of what the USDA calls the “temperature danger zone.” 

Cold food items (like raw poultry) should be held at 40℉ or less at all times. The reason is because once the temperature rises past that point, the potential for bacteria growth increases exponentially. 

So, whether you’re planning to cook the chicken in the near future or you want it to sit in a marinade or seasonings, always put it in the fridge if you’re not going to start the cooking process within an hour or two. 

How Long Can Frozen Raw Chicken Sit Out? 

Putting a time on frozen raw chicken is a little bit trickier because the chicken is frozen down to a safe temperature and will take longer to reach the temperature danger zone.

Frozen Chicken

Still, the best and safest way to handle frozen raw chicken is to thaw it in the refrigerator so that it stays in the food safe temperature zone. 

Still, even though the chicken is frozen, it still has the potential for harmful bacteria to develop in and on the surface if it’s left out at room temperature.

Just like non-frozen raw chicken, after one or two hours, the chances for harmful bacteria and foodborne illness increases tremendously. 

Thawing out a frozen chicken can be a big headache if you need to cook it for dinner within the next few hours.

While it may be tempting to run hot water over the frozen poultry, resist the urge! You should never use warm or hot water to thaw raw meat. 

Not to mention, there’s also the added risk of potentially cross-contaminating other ingredients with the chicken that you leave out on the counter. 

How to Safely Thaw Raw Chicken

If you need to get your frozen chicken ready to cook, it’s important to follow food-safety guidelines to ensure that you and your family stay safe from foodborne illness and bacteria that can develop during the thawing process. 

Remember, raw chicken should never be at room temperature (or warmer) for more than two hours. 

The best and safest way to thaw raw chicken is to let it slowly thaw naturally in the refrigerator.

If you have time, you should remove the chicken from its packaging and place it on a plate (make sure any juices won’t drip over the sides) in your fridge. 

However, if you need the chicken for dinner tonight, the fridge thawing method might not be an option. In that case, there are a couple other options you can consider. 

You can thaw your chicken in a couple of hours using the cold-water method. This involves placing the chicken in a tightly sealed zip-top bag (check that the bag is not leaking), and submerging it in cold water in a bowl in the sink. 

Change out the water every half-hour or so until the chicken is thawed completely. This could take several hours, but the better that you keep up with changing the water every 30 minutes, the faster it will go. 

Another method is using your microwave’s defrosting feature. This can be an effective way to thaw out your chicken, but it’s not ideal.

If you defrost in the microwave, it’s important to go ahead and fully cook the chicken as soon as you’re done thawing. 

Keep in mind that using a microwave can potentially create “hot spots” in the meat where some areas are warmed into the temperature danger zone, while other areas are still frozen solid.

For that reason, it’s important to get the entire portion out of the danger zone as quickly as possible through the cooking process. 

Lastly, it’s possible to cook the chicken while it’s still frozen, depending on what kind of recipe you’re preparing.

If you’re making a sauce or stew, you can potentially put the chicken (or pieces) into the mix while frozen and cook them from there.

Or, if you use an Instant Pot or air fryer, you may be able to skip the thawing process. Just remember that you may need to increase your cooking time by about 50 percent. 

How Long Can Raw Chicken Stay in the Fridge? 

Raw chicken should stay in the fridge for no more than one to two days. The actual amount of time that the chicken will stay good depends on the temperature it was held at before you purchased it, how long it was off refrigeration, and temperature inside your fridge. 

Chicken in the Fridge

How the chicken was handled and processed can also impact its shelf life once you get it home and into your refrigerator. 

If you’ve thawed out your previously frozen chicken in the fridge safely, it should stay good in the refrigerator for another day or two before you cook it.

You should not refreeze your chicken once you’ve thawed it out. 

Remember, it’s always best to discard chicken that you’re unsure about, but there are ways to inspect your poultry and check for signs of spoilage as an added safety measure. 

A foul odor, discoloration, a soft or squishy texture, and the presence of slime are all indicators that your chicken has spoiled.

If you notice any of these, you should throw the meat away no matter how long it’s been. 

How To Properly Store Raw Chicken

To keep your chicken safe and limit the risk of foodborne illness, you should ensure that you always place poultry (and any other meats and perishable items) into the refrigerator as soon as you get home with your groceries.

Every minute that chicken spends in the temperature danger zone increases the potential for bacteria growth. 

Ideally, you should keep your chicken in its original packaging so that it’s clear what the item is and when it was purchased.

It also limits exposure to any bacteria in your kitchen and protects the meat from exposure to the air.

Oxygen can increase the potential for bacteria growth, so keeping the packaging intact helps to reduce that risk. 

It’s a good idea to wrap the chicken (in its original packaging) in another plastic bag or plastic wrap. This will prevent any leaking juices from contaminating your refrigerator. 

If your chicken is already opened and you need to store the extra pieces, you should immediately place it in an airtight zip-top bag or another airtight container (glass is best, but plastic is also okay). You can double wrap it for extra security. 

Label the bag or container with the item and date. That way, if you forget about it or you have multiple items in the fridge, you’ll know for sure which meat item is which and when it was placed in the refrigerator. 

Place the chicken on the bottom shelf toward the back or wherever the coldest area is in your refrigerator.

Once the chicken is open and you’ve handled it, the chances of exposure to bacteria are higher.

Getting the chicken chilled back down and out of the temperature danger zone as quickly as possible is the best way to keep it safe and healthy.  

Knowing how to properly handle and store raw chicken is the best way to prevent foodborne illnesses like Salmonella and E.Coli.

Keeping chicken in the fridge or freezer is essential to keeping bacteria growth at bay. Remember, when in doubt – throw it out!

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