Is It Safe To Eat Cold Chicken? [Plus Proper Storage]

Every mom knows that meal planning is a fantastic way to stay on top of school lunches and the seemingly never ending pile of dishes in the sink.

Unfortunately, many of these delicious and healthy recipes require reheating prior to consumption.

When searching your fridge for viable options for your kid’s mid-day meal, you may be wondering, is it safe to eat cold chicken? We have the eggs-cellent news!

Generally speaking, cold chicken is safe to eat when it has been cooked properly and refrigerated in an airtight container, sealed plastic bag, or aluminum foil. The meat should be heated to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, always eat the chicken within four days of cooking. Additionally, perishable foods must not remain at room temperature for more than two hours. If you freeze the cooked chicken, always allow it to thaw in the refrigerator before eating it cold.

Types of Cold Chicken Dishes That Are Safe To Eat

Chicken is a very versatile ingredient so there are a lot of ways to eat this meat cold.

Here are some of the top types of chicken dishes that are safe to eat cold once properly prepared!

  • Rotisserie Chicken
  • Chicken Salad
  • Pasta Salad
  • Chicken Breast
  • Chicken Meatballs
  • Chicken Wings
  • Chicken Nuggets
  • Chicken Pizza
  • Chicken Soba Noodles
  • Chicken Stir Fry
  • Chicken Fried Rice
  • Deli Chicken
  • Chicken Piccata
  • Chicken Gumbo
  • Chicken Casseroles
  • Chicken Pasta Dishes
  • Chicken Soups (Chicken Noodle, Chicken & Gnocchi, Chicken Tortilla, Etc.)

These are just a few of the delicious meals that you can make and then eat cold on a later date.

However, in order for the cold chicken to be safe to eat, certain guidelines must be followed.

Safe Food Preparation And Storage Guidelines — Cold Chicken

Cook Raw Chicken To The Correct Temperature To Eliminate Dangerous Bacteria

In order for cold chicken to be safe to eat, it first must be prepared in the correct way.

Otherwise, you run the risk of dangerous bacteria, like salmonella, lurking in the meat, which can lead to food poisoning.

Therefore, you should never consume uncooked cold chicken. 

Follow The 2-Hour Rule When Keeping Cold Chicken At Room Temperature

Moreover, it is imperative that you follow the 2-hour rule when storing this food item. The FDA’s guideline states that perishable foods, like raw and cooked chicken, should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Additionally, this time frame will drop to one hour when temperatures are more than 90 degrees.

These conditions can also lead to the growth of microorganisms that are detrimental to your health.

Thus, place these products in the refrigerator or freezer when they are not being cooked or eaten.

Store Raw Chicken & Cooked Chicken For The Appropriate Time Frames

Additionally, your chicken must be prepared and eaten in a safe window of time. “Cook raw chicken within one or two days, or freeze at 0 °F.

You can keep cooked chicken in the refrigerator [for] three to four days or freeze it within that length of time”. 

Raw chicken can be frozen for up to a year and cooked chicken can be kept in cold storage for up to four months.

Additionally, chicken casseroles can span up to six months in the freezer.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Never freeze chicken salad, pasta salad or other dishes that have mayonnaise in the ingredients list. These food items do not fare well in cold storage.

Raw uncooked chicken meat

Always Thaw Frozen Chicken In The Fridge

Speaking of planning ahead, when it comes to thawing your frozen cooked chicken, it is always best to place the meat in the refrigerator the day before you intend to eat it.

This allows it to defrost slowly. Not only is this a safe technique, but it also helps to maintain the original texture of the meat.

If you do find yourself in a rush, a safe alternative is to place the chicken in a cold water bath.

Replace the water every 30 minutes. Depending on the quantity that you are defrosting, this can take less than an hour or up to three. 

Finally, you should never defrost frozen foods on the counter at room temperature.

When you do this, the exterior portions of meat will thaw much more quickly than the interior, causing the meat to quickly spoil.

Keep Your Chicken Cold Until It Is Time To Eat

If the intent is to pack the cold chicken in your lunch, it is important to keep these items chilled until you eat.

Therefore, if refrigeration is not available, invest in an insulated lunch bag and ice packs. This can greatly expand the normal two hour window. 

Moreover, PackIt is an amazing brand that has created freezable lunch bags which are essentially a mini fridge for folks who are always on the go.

Remember that no matter which option you choose, it is also imperative that you keep these containers out of direct sunlight and that you store them at room temperature (68 to 72 degrees)

Take Precautions While Pregnant — Not All Cold Chicken Dishes Are Safe To Eat

While cold cooked chicken is safe to eat, pregnant women should avoid chicken dishes that include ingredients like mayonnaise.

This is because this condiment can contain raw eggs. Moreover, expectant mothers should also not consume deli chicken.

This is due to the risk of Listeria. Check out our more detailed post about eating cold chicken while pregnant

Thus, if you want to eat cold chicken while pregnant, prepare the meat and dishes yourself so that you can control the ingredients.

This will also give you control over preparation and handling, which will greatly diminish the instance of dangerous bacteria. 

Consider Other Ingredients When Determining Safe Storage Times

A food’s ability to stay safe to eat is dependent on all of the ingredients used in the recipe.

For fans of chicken salad, the creamy and flavorful mixture of mayonnaise and mustard makes this dish more susceptible to spoilage. 

Similarly, pasta salads made with dressings and condiments like sour cream, mayonnaise and Ranch are also likely to go bad more quickly than plain cold chicken. This makes proper storage even more crucial.

Hence,  it is best to not push the two hour window with these types of dishes and always prioritize keeping them in cold storage.

Ways To Eat Cold Chicken

Cold Chicken Lunch Options Are Easy To Make And Safe To Eat

Cold chicken is a fantastic lean protein source that is brimming with B vitamins as well as zinc, selenium and magnesium.

Best of all, it is an easy way to bulk up sandwiches, salads, wraps, pasta salads, and grain bowls.

Additionally, another classic recipe that uses cold chicken as the main ingredient is chicken salad.

This dish is always served cold, and therefore, safe to eat without reheating. Make sure to serve this within five days.

Cold Chicken Leftovers 

Leftovers are a great way to cut back on food waste and meal prep for the week.

Options like chicken balls, chicken pizza and soba noodle bowls are amazing, no matter if they are hot or cold.

However, if the chicken is a part of a casserole or pasta dish, know that the food may not have the same texture or appeal as it does when it is hot.

Nonetheless, all of these options are perfectly safe to eat.

Expect Texture And Consistency Changes With Certain Chicken Dishes When Served Cold

Breaded Wings, Fried Chicken, Chicken Nuggets and Parmesan Crusted Chicken Can Become Soggy

Heavily breaded and fried varieties of chicken will not maintain the same consistency as when originally made. Unfortunately, in cold storage, the breading can become soggy.

These changes can only be reverse by reheating the chicken in an oven or on a skillet.

Thus, if you have picky eaters on your hands, it is best to stick to lightly seasoned cold chicken, like marinated and rotisserie chicken. 

Cold Chicken Noodle Soup Can Take On A Gelatinous Consistency

Cold chicken noodle soup is also safe to eat. This goes for both homemade and canned varieties.

However, the broth can become congealed upon cooling. This is not an appealing quality to those who are sensitive to texture changes. 

How To Know Whether Your Cold Chicken Is Safe To Eat Or Has Gone Bad

Appearance

Cooked chicken should have a white coloring. If the meat has turned grey, green or yellow, it is time to discard it.

Furthermore, chicken that has pink spots is not safe to consume. If mold is present, throw the meat out as well.

Additionally, it is also important to inspect the chicken prior to cooking. Raw chicken is pink, so when other colors are present, always err on the side of caution. 

Smell

Changes in smell are a major indication that the meat has gone bad. Why? Chicken has a tendency to take on the smell of the spices used to season it.

When boiled, there is little to no scent whatsoever.

This means that if you notice sour, rancid or sulfur-like smells (like rotten eggs) coming from your cold chicken, it is not safe to eat. 

Texture

Another sign that will indicate that the cooked chicken is past its due date is a slimy or sticky texture along the exterior of the meat.

This can be hard to notice when the dish includes a sauce, but for rotisserie chicken, it is a quick clue that points to spoilage. 

Taste

Lastly, as mentioned above, other ingredients can mask alterations in coloring, aroma and consistency.

Thus, if your cold cooked chicken seems fine, but has a weird flavor, find an alternative dish to eat. When in doubt, spit it out!

Final Thoughts 

Cold chicken is perfectly safe to eat when it has been cooked and stored properly.

The best ways to ensure that your food stays safe is to label your leftovers with the date of preparation.

Masking tape is a spectacular tool for the job! In addition, meal planning can also help you eliminate food waste and the concern of leftovers sitting in the fridge for too long.

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