How Long Can Chicken Salad Last? [Proper Storage]

When you make chicken salad, there is a good chance that you may have some leftovers. That in itself is not necessarily a problem. After all, having leftovers means you have something that you can throw together quickly or at a moment’s notice.

Chicken salad is a popular dish that can be made with a variety of ingredients. Typically, chicken salad is made with diced chicken, mayonnaise, celery, and onion. That said, it presents issues with how quickly you have to use it before it goes bad.

Many people think that chicken salad will last in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. However, chicken salad can actually last in the refrigerator for up to 7 days if it is stored in an airtight container. If you freeze your chicken salad, it will retain its taste and texture if you eat it within 2-3 months.

In the Fridge

When you properly store your chicken salad in the fridge, you are looking at somewhere between 3 to 5 days before it goes bad. That assumes you have put the chicken salad in an airtight container or bag.

Uncovered

If left uncovered, chicken salad can last for up to four hours. If you leave chicken salad uncovered, the results are not going to be good. Even if you put it into the fridge, leaving it uncovered will ensure that it spoils at a far faster rate than it would have otherwise. If you are going to store it, make sure it’s covered.  

Never, ever leave chicken salad uncovered in an open area like a countertop. Chicken, nor mayonnaise, is meant to be left out at room temperature. Not only will the chicken salad go bad but you will likely be dealing with bacterial growth as well.

Importance of Proper Storage

You may be thinking “my chicken salad will go bad. What’s the big deal about leaving it out?” Not only will your chicken salad go bad, but there could be potential health consequences to leaving your chicken salad out, too.

Bacterial Growth

The biggest reason behind that 3 to 5 day period is bacterial growth. Chicken and mayonnaise should never be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. That is because bacterial growth accelerates.

Food stored below 40F is generally safe because they are out of the “danger zone.” That zone refers to temperatures between 40F and 140F where bacteria can grow rapidly. That typically means mold, but in the case of chicken, it can also mean salmonella.

Bacterial growth is not something you want to contend with. In the case of mold, it can spread fairly quickly through spores and can be dangerous to ingest. Salmonella, meanwhile, can leave you severely ill depending on the severity. Do not mess with these bacteria if you can avoid it.

How Do I Extend the Life of My Chicken Salad?

For the most part, chicken salad has a set shelf life. That 3 to 5 day period is about as much as you can safely expect to get out of ingredients like chicken and mayonnaise. Pushing it any further than that is inviting trouble.

You can get closer to that 5 day period by putting your chicken salad in an airtight container. Furthermore, ensure that it is kept refrigerated whenever you are not actively using it. Don’t leave it out for any extended period of time. If you leave it out 2 hours or longer, just toss it out as it should no longer be considered safe to eat.

Can You Freeze Chicken Salad?

Technically speaking, yes, you can freeze chicken salad. That said, there is one caveat to be aware of. Read our more detailed post covering freezing chicken salad with mayo

Ingredients Matter

The success of freezing chicken salad comes down to the ingredients that you use. Some ingredients maintain their quality even when frozen. Furthermore, they retain that quality when thawed.

Mayo or Miracle Whip

One of the most common ingredients in chicken salad is mayonnaise or miracle whip. If you don’t have success freezing your chicken salad, this is the most likely reason why. Mayonnaise tends to separate when it thaws, which reduces the quality of your chicken salad greatly.

If you made chicken salad using mayonnaise or miracle whip, you may want to consider skipping freezing. There have been instances, however, where freezing chicken salad made with Miracle Whip went fine, so perhaps try that before mayo.

Ultimately, it is a risk freezing chicken salad with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Do so at your own discretion and don’t be surprised if your batch doesn’t turn out quite the way you hoped.

Greek Yogurt

Some people mix yogurt into their chicken salad. Unfortunately, the issues are much the same when it comes to freezing this mixture. Like the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt will separate and make for an unpleasant texture. If you make your chicken salad using yogurt of any kind, try to avoid freezing it.

How Do I Freeze Chicken Salad?

Whether you use mayonnaise or not, you may still decide to freeze a particularly large batch of chicken salad. If you are going to attempt to freeze your concoction, there are a few steps that you want to take to give your chicken the best chance possible.

  1. Containers matter. Whenever you freeze something, go with a freezer-safe bag or container. Not all of them are rated for freezer use. You could be staring at freezer burn before long if you choose the wrong container.
  2. Remove air. Air is your enemy when it comes to freezing things. Try to remove as much air as you possibly can from the bag or container. Try a few different applications, particularly with bags, to get as much of that air out as you can.
  3. When to use. Freezing extends the life of most foods but that doesn’t mean it can stay frozen indefinitely. For quality chicken salad, use it within 2 or 3 months at the most. Anything longer and you could be looking at iffy quality. Mark the date on your bag so you know how long it has been frozen.
  4. Thaw in the fridge. Do not leave your chicken salad out to thaw. Because of the ingredients involved, you want the thawing process to happen in the fridge. It is slower but definitely the safer route and will maintain the consistency of the chicken salad.
  5. Add. When you thaw the chicken salad, consider adding in more mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, or yogurt as needed. It is not uncommon for frozen chicken salad to dry out when thawed.

How Do I Know if Chicken Salad is Bad?

There will come a time where, no matter what steps or precautions you have taken, the chicken salad will simply be bad. That is okay, but it also helps if you know how to identify when it has gone bad. Because of the potential bacteria involved, you don’t want to ingest bad chicken salad.

  1. Smell. Typically, the most telltale sign that your chicken salad has gone bad is the smell. The odor will be unpleasant to say the least. The smell is the result of the chicken absorbing the “off” flavors of the other ingredients like tomatoes, applies, onions, or lettuce.
  2. Color. Take a good look at your chicken salad. When chicken or the vegetables within start to turn, you may notice a grayish-brown color. That indicates that something is spoiled. The enzymes within the ingredients cause the carbohydrates and protein within to spoil and degrade.
  3. Texture of the chicken. Take a look at the chicken in specific. You may notice a layer of slime that has formed over the surface of the chicken. That means the salad has been contaminated by bacterial and even mold growth. There is a lot of moisture in chicken salads, which is ideal for bacteria and mold to thrive in.
  4. More than 5 days. If you leave chicken salad in the fridge for more than 4 or 5 days, don’t trust it. Toss it out instead of risking it. Likewise, if you have kept it out longer than a few hours at room temperature, don’t risk it.

Will I Get Sick From Eating Bad Chicken Salad?

The quick answer is “maybe”. When chicken salad has gone bad, there is an increased level of bacterial growth within. Depending on your body, you may be able to simply dispel the bacteria without much incident.

Food Poisoning

You may also be one of the unlucky ones that battles food poisoning. Depending on how spoiled the chicken salad is, you could be facing food poisoning symptoms. That means vomiting and severe nausea for hours or even a few days after eating the chicken salad.

Chicken salad is also known for a toxin-producing bacteria by the name of Staphylococcus aureus. Avoid old chicken salad wherever possible.

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