How Long Can Chicken Sit Out?

We all know that chicken is a delicious and versatile protein that can be the star of countless dishes.

But what happens when you accidentally leave it sitting out on the counter?

Don’t panic just yet! 

Today, we’re here to shed some light on the important question: how long can chicken sit out before it becomes a potential health hazard?

We’ll explore the factors that come into play, the risks involved, and some handy tips to keep your poultry safe and scrumptious. 

So, let’s jump right into this chicken chat and ensure your meals are always as safe as they are satisfying!

How Long Can Chicken Sit Out?

Poultry, like chicken, is highly perishable and can become unsafe to eat if left out at room temperature for too long.

According to the USDA, chicken should not sit out for more than 2 hours, or for more than one hour if the temperature is above 90°F (32°C).

Actually, to answer the question: “How long can chicken sit out?”, we must look at 4 types of chicken: raw, cooked, fried, and frozen.

Each type has a different lifespan.

1. Raw Chicken

When it comes to raw chicken, swift refrigeration is key to preventing bacterial growth.

In a standard room environment, raw chicken should only be left exposed for a maximum duration of 2 hours.

In warmer conditions, especially where the ambient temperature climbs above 90°F, this safe exposure time drops to just 1 hour.

It’s critical to understand that bacteria proliferate quickly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, which is considered the danger zone.

To err on the side of caution, always monitor the time raw chicken remains unrefrigerated to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses.

2. Cooked Chicken

For cooked chicken, the same principles of food safety apply as with raw poultry.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns that cooked chicken should be kept out of the danger zone – temperatures between 40°F and 140°F where bacteria rapidly multiply.

If the ambient temperature doesn’t exceed 90°F, cooked chicken can safely sit out for no more than 2 hours before the risk of contamination rises significantly.

In hotter climates where temperatures soar above 90°F, the time frame is reduced to 1 hour.

After these periods, cooked chicken could harbor bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, both of which pose a threat of causing food-related illnesses.

Being vigilant with these time limits is crucial for ensuring the safety of consumed cooked poultry.

3. Fried Chicken

The safety rules for fried chicken are akin to those for raw and cooked poultry.

Despite the cooking process, which typically involves high temperatures, fried chicken is not immune to bacterial growth if left out for extended periods.

The USDA suggests a strict 2-hour limit for keeping fried chicken at room temperature when conditions are below 90°F.

Above this temperature, the timeframe shortens to just 1 hour.

To prevent the risk of foodborne pathogens, such as E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus, it’s prudent to refrigerate fried chicken if it’s not being actively consumed.

This precaution helps maintain the quality and safety of the chicken and is an essential practice for any food handling.

4. Frozen Chicken

When dealing with frozen chicken, it is critical to handle thawing correctly to ensure food safety.

The USDA underscores that frozen chicken must not be left out at normal room temperatures for over 2 hours.

Thawing poultry at room temperature can cause the outer layers to enter the danger zone well before the inner layers have defrosted, potentially allowing harmful bacteria to multiply.

Can You Safely Eat Chicken That Was Cooked and Left Out Overnight?

Leaving cooked chicken out overnight frequently renders it unsafe for consumption due to potential bacterial growth.

In environments where room temperature falls within the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F, bacteria like Salmonella or Listeria can rapidly propagate.

The key is that bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes under suitable conditions.

These bacteria can lead to serious foodborne illnesses if ingested.

If you have accidentally left cooked chicken out overnight, it’s crucial to assess the situation responsibly.

Discard the chicken to eliminate any risk of illness.

Food safety should always take precedence, and when in doubt, it is advised to err on the side of caution.

Remember, no amount of cooking will guarantee the removal of all toxins produced by bacteria.

What Happens When You Consume Spoiled Chicken?

Knowing the key answer to the question “How long can chicken sit out?” is extremely important because you will not know what happens to your body if consuming a spoiled one.

If you accidentally eat spoiled chicken, below are the symptoms you will experience. 

Symptoms from eating bad poultry can manifest differently depending on the individual but typically include:

1. Nausea: A strong feeling of unease and discomfort in the stomach, often preceding vomiting.

2. Vomiting: The body’s response to remove the toxins ingested through spoiled food.

3. Diarrhea: Frequent, loose, or watery stools which can lead to dehydration.

4. Fever: An elevated body temperature indicates the immune system is fighting an infection.

5. Abdominal Cramps: Painful spasms in the abdominal area caused by irritation or inflammation of the stomach and intestines.

6. Headaches: These can be a result of the body’s overall response to toxins.

7. Weakness and Fatigue: The body’s natural response to fighting off infection can lead to a feeling of overall tiredness and a lack of energy.

8. Loss of Appetite: Disinterest in eating, often due to nausea or abdominal discomfort.

How Can You Know If Chicken Has Gone Bad?

Sometimes the chicken can become bad before the time we think it can sit out, so identifying the signs that the chicken is spoiled will help you avoid major risks and troubles.

Several tell-tale signs indicate your chicken may have gone bad:

1. Off-Smell: Fresh chicken has a mild odor or none at all. Spoiled chicken, however, emits a distinct sour or ammonia-like smell. If the chicken has an unpleasant or strong odor, it’s a clear sign that it’s spoiled and should not be consumed.

2. Change in Color: Fresh raw chicken is usually a light pink color with white fat. If you notice that the chicken has become grayish or has spots of green or yellow, this suggests bacterial growth.

3. Slimy Texture: After passing the smell test, feel the chicken. A slimy residue on the surface of the chicken, even after washing, is another indication that it is not safe to eat.

4. Expired Sell-By Date: While sell-by dates are not the definitive guide to a product’s freshness, they can be used in conjunction with other assessments. If the chicken is past the sell-by or use-by date, extra scrutiny should be applied.

5. Foul Taste: If you’ve cooked your chicken and it tastes off, trust your palate and discard the meal. A bad taste can signify that the chicken is no longer good.

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness, always inspect the chicken with these factors in mind before preparation or consumption.

If you have any doubts about the freshness of your chicken, it’s best to avoid eating it and purchase a fresh supply.

How To Store Chicken Correctly?

In addition to knowing clearly about how long chicken can sit out and the signs to recognize spoiled chicken, we should also know clearly about how to store chicken correctly and most effectively.

The proper storage of chicken is vital to maintaining its freshness and preventing foodborne illness.

Raw chicken should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator and used within 1 to 2 days after purchase; ensure it’s placed on the lowest shelf to prevent cross-contamination.

Cooked chicken should be divided into smaller portions, placed in airtight containers, and refrigerated promptly after cooking.

It can be kept safely for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. If you need to store chicken longer, freezing is an effective option, as it can extend the shelf life for several months.

It’s essential to wrap the chicken in heavy-duty aluminum foil, freezer paper, or a freezer bag to combat freezer burn and taste degradation.

When thawing frozen chicken, doing so in the refrigerator over a day is the safest method.

Avoid using the microwave or thawing at room temperature, as these can lead to uneven and unsafe temperature variations.

Following these storage guidelines will ensure that your chicken remains safe, savory, and nutritious until you’re ready to enjoy it.


In conclusion, the central question for ensuring food safety with poultry is: “How long can chicken sit out?”

It is imperative to understand that cooked chicken should not sit out for more than 2 hours at room temperature.

By adhering to this guideline, you minimize the risk of bacterial growth that can lead to foodborne illnesses.

Vigilantly practicing safe food handling protocols, storing chicken correctly, and promptly discarding any poultry that has been left out too long are essential steps to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of spoiled food.

Always remember, when it comes to food safety, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Chef Chip Roman is one of the most exciting and talented chefs in Philadelphia. He has his own catering business, Charles Roman Catering, as well as Roman Restaurant Group which includes Blackfish, Mica, and Ela. He graduated from Drexel University in 2002 with a degree in business and culinary arts. Chip Roman is a classically trained chef who has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens and chefs in Philadelphia, including Le Bec Fin’s George Perrier and Marc Vetri’s Vetri.

Leave a Comment