How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out? [2021 Updated]

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out

In many homes, chicken is a staple. It is easy to cook, delicious, and versatile. Plus, it is high in protein. However, in many instances, you will find yourself cooking more than what you need. Good thing, it does not have to go to waste, However, there is one question that you need to answer – how long can cooked chicken sit out?

By leaving chicken too long out of the fridge and at room temperature, it is prone to exposure to external elements that can speed up spoilage. Read on and we’ll let you know the exact duration at which you can leave it out and eat it without worries.

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out

How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out?

Two hours – this is the maximum time that you can leave the chicken out of the fridge after it has been cooked. It is best to eat it as soon as possible. However, if you have no choice but to wait, then make sure to consume it within the next two hours.

On the other hand, if you keep it in the fridge, then cooked chicken can last three to four days. Refrigerating chicken will slow down the growth of bacteria compared to leaving it in the open air.

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Cooked Chicken’s Danger Zone

Aside from knowing how long exactly cooked chicken is good for when it is left sitting out, you should also learn its danger zone. This way, you will understand what happens as you leave it and what it can do to the person who will be eating such.

The Danger Zone is not just any term that we are making up. Rather, it is a word that has been introduced by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. It refers to a temperature range from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is when the bacteria seep into food. When such happens, the food will spoil, making it unsafe to eat.

When the chicken is left sitting out after it is cooked, it will slowly enter the danger zone. The longer you leave it, the worse the condition will be. E. coli or salmonella will start growing within such temperature zones, increasing the chances of having food-borne illnesses.

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Signs That Cooked Chicken Has Gone Bad

It isn’t a simple guessing game. You should be aware of the different signs that it is no longer safe to eat the cooked chicken that you have left sitting out. Below are some of the most important things that you should look for.


The best way to judge if the cooked chicken is still good to eat is to look at its appearance, especially its colors. Depending on how it has been cooked, you can easily see the discoloration from the outside. Otherwise, you will have to slice the meat first and see if there is any change in its original color.

If it is still good, then the flesh of cooked chicken should be white. If it is pink, red, gray, brown, black, or any other color that is not a result of the method of cooking, then throw it right away. The color change is the most obvious sign that you can no longer eat it.


Aside from the appearance, it is also crucial that you take the time to smell the chicken to determine if it is still good. It should smell fresh. The dominant odor should be the ingredients and the spices that you used for cooking chicken.

The chicken will have a sour or sulfur-like smell when it has gone bad. Start by identifying what dish is it, and if you notice that the smell is different from the latter, then this can be an indication that it has already gone bad. If the smell is suspicious, do not risk it!


The texture of cooked chicken will vary depending on how it has been prepared. However, in most cases, it should be smooth and easy to chew. If it is tough, slimy, or sticky, then this can be another sign that it was already passed its prime. Take the time to cut the meat first or use a fork instead of putting it directly in your mouth.

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The Risk of Eating Spoiled Cooked Chicken

If the cooked chicken has been out for a long time, take the time to examine its appearance and smell. If it has already spoiled, it is best to throw it out. Otherwise, you can suffer from different health risks.

Among others, the most common consequence is food poisoning. While it is more common in raw chicken that has spoiled, the same thing can also happen in cooked chicken that has been past through its best state.

Some of the most common symptoms of food poisoning including high fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and nausea. Most cases can be managed through home care. However, in severe situations, hospitalization may be necessary. It can even result in death.

How to Make Cooked Chicken Last Longer

While cooked chicken generally lasts two hours without having it refrigerated, certain factors can speed up its spoilage. For instance, extreme heat can ruin it faster. Below are some of the most important tips for preventing cooked chicken from spoiling quicker:

  • Inspect the chicken before anything else. Check the appearance and texture, seeing to it that it is still in a good condition.
  • Cook the chicken in a clean environment. Make sure to properly wash everything that you will be using, including the pot and ladle. Your hands should also be clean before you touch the chicken and other ingredients. Otherwise, there is a risk of cross-contamination.
  • See to it that you cook the chicken completely to prevent the introduction of bacteria. Use a meat thermometer for checking the internal temperature. At the minimum, the internal temperature should be 170 degrees Fahrenheit for the breast and at least 175 for the thigh.
  • Store the chicken properly. If you will leave it outside of the fridge, keep it in a container with a tight seal. This will keep moisture and dirt out. However, before closing the lid, see to it that the chicken is already warm.
  • Refrigerate or freeze the chicken after it has been cooked. This is your best bet to make it last more than two hours. Reheat before serving depending on the dish that you have.

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What about Raw Chicken?

Now that we talked about how long you can leave cooked chicken sitting out, let’s also discuss raw chicken. Compared to cooked chicken, it is more prone to spoilage, so you need to be more careful. Extreme temperature changes can bring more serious risks.

If it is raw chicken, then you can keep it safely in the fridge for one to two days. If you want the raw chicken to last longer, then you should put it in the freezer. This way, it lasts up to nine months. If it is a whole chicken, meanwhile, you can have it frozen for up to one year.

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