How Long Can Chicken Sit Out?

Chicken meat is a staple in many of our kitchens, but do you know how long can chicken sit out before it beings to grow harmful bacteria and put you at risk of a foodborne illness?

Read on to find out when is your chicken safe to eat and when you should throw it out ASAP.

raw chicken on the cutting board

How long can raw chicken sit out?

You know that moment when you get home from grocery shopping and want to sit down for a few before you unpack all the food? A half an hour break should be fine, but keep in mind that raw chicken meat can stay at room temperature for about two hours before it goes bad.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, you can leave raw chicken out for two hours in room temperature, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bacteria need a comfortable environment to grow and they do anywhere between 40°F and 140°F! Even if you think the trunk of your car is cold enough and you think you can safely leave raw chicken in there to do some more shopping, 40°F may be cold to you but eating spoiled meat leaves you in the danger zone.

How long can you leave frozen chicken out?

When I was younger, I can’t tell you the number of times I took chicken out of the freezer and put it on my kitchen counter overnight to defrost. That’s before I found out that the moment frozen chicken reaches 40°F, it starts to grow dangerous bacteria that can make you sick quite quickly. Never let frozen chicken sit out for too long!

What’s the best way to thaw chicken?

There are 4 ways to get completely thawed chicken:

Thaw in the fridge

This is probably one of the safest (and best!) ways to defrost chicken. All you need to do is take the chicken out of the freezer and place it on a plate or in a container, then pop it in the fridge. The only downside of this method is that it takes long – about 24 hours.

Thaw it in cold water

Place your frozen chicken in cold water. Make sure it’s in a sealed container, like a ziploc bag before it comes in contact with water to avoid bacterial contamination. This method is fast, but you need to watch the meat closely so it doesn’t stay out for a long time after it’s defrosted.

Remember: Don’t use warm or hot water to thaw chicken! The moment it reaches 40°F, it starts to grow bacteria.

Defrost it in the microwave

Frozen food can be easily defrosted in the microwave. It’s the fastest option there, but I’m not a huge fan because it can leave some parts of your chicken raw and some parts cooked, plus I don’t personally like the taste. Make sure you use it as soon as you defrost it.

Cook it frozen

This method might not work for all recipes, but it can definitely be used in recipes that use shredded chicken such as our Keto Mexican Shredded Chicken Recipe or the Keto White Chicken Chili. Of course, keep in mind to adjust the cooking time.

White Chicken Chili

How long can cooked chicken sit out?

You can safely leave cooked chicken out for no more than two hours. While this is the general rule, keep in mind this time might shorten if you’re in a warmer environment. If you leave out cooked chicken for more than an hour when it’s about 90 degrees in your house, you might end up with spoiled chicken as well.

Always make sure to keep leftover chicken (or any cooked leftovers!) in the fridge and not on your kitchen counter. Cooked food should always be cooled down a bit and then placed in the fridge.

How can I tell if my chicken is already spoiled?

Raw chicken

Fresh chicken should be light pink with white or slightly off white fat pieces. Don’t worry if there is a vein there or two, that’s perfectly fine.

The moment raw meat has a severely slimy texture, it’s greyish or the fat is very yellow, you should discard it immediately. Of course, bad smell is also the first giveaway that something is wrong with your meat products.

Cooked chicken

Got some leftover fried chicken? Don’t leave it at room temperature! Instead, place it in the fridge immediately in a sealed container up to three days. This of course goes for cooked chicken as well.

Meat that’s cooked properly should be white with absolutely no pinkish hues – that means it’s undercooked! If you store meat in the fridge and realize there are signs of mold or a difference in color you need to throw it out immediately. Otherwise, you’re risking food poisoning from eating rotten chicken.

tasty keto orange chicken wings


If you want to eat chicken without worrying about food safety, keep these 3 rules in mind:

  1. Remember the “two hour rule” – if the chicken stays out for longer than two hours in room temperature, it’s time to throw it out.
  2. Smell it – if your raw poultry (or cooked chicken meat!) has an odd, pungent smell, place it in the garbage immediately.
  3. Look at it – is your chicken greenish? Look for any odd signs and if you spot even one small thing, throw it out.

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