How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out? – Avoiding the Danger Zone

October 7, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

On average, raw chicken can sit out for about two hours at room temperature, but less if the temperature is warmer.

In culinary school, food safety is one of the main things that they drill into you. After all, get it wrong and people end up sick! So, if you are curious about how long can raw chicken sit out, then you have come to the right place.

In this post, I will outline time frames and explain to you why these rules need to be followed no matter what. Let’s begin!

How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out

How Long Can You Safely Leave Raw Chicken Out For?

At most, raw chicken can sit out on the counter for a maximum time of two hours. However, if the temperature is over 90°F, then the meat cannot be kept for more than an hour.

According to the USDA, you have to keep raw chicken stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because dangerous bacteria such as salmonella bacteria, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus aureus can grow rapidly between this temperature range.

Now, why does this matter if you are planning on keeping fresh raw chicken out on your countertop?

Well, this is because normal room temperature is usually between 64°F and 73°F. As you can see, it is right in between the danger zone. Therefore, the bacterial density on the chicken can increase quickly within a short period of time, causing it to spoil.

The reasons that this is such a bad thing is because these microorganisms can cause food poisoning. The greater the bacterial growth, the higher the risk of symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other unpleasant side effects.

In some cases, you may even need to be hospitalized. The likelihood of this is higher with very young children or older individuals.

raw chicken breast on a chopping board

Can Raw Chicken Sit Out for 3 Hours?

No, raw chicken that has passed the two hour rule shouldn’t not be consumed.

Is It Safe to Eat Raw Chicken Left Out for 4 Hours?

It is not safe to eat chicken that has been left out for this time, in fact it is even more dangerous.

Can I Eat Raw Chicken That Was Left Out Overnight?

It is absolutely no longer safe to eat raw meat that has been left out all night. At this point, the bacterial contamination would be significant and you could end up quite sick.

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Does Cooking Chicken Help?

OK, so all the above information is for raw chicken meat – what about if you cooked the meat? Could you eat chicken that has been left out for longer, then? After all, it is common knowledge that high heat kills harmful bacteria.

Well, the problem goes far beyond bacteria density. See, the bacteria that can grow on raw chicken produces toxins. These toxins are what cause the symptoms of food poisoning. Unlike bacteria, these toxins are heat resistant. Thus, they are unlikely to be killed or deactivated, even at very high temperatures.

How Long Can Frozen Chicken Sit Out at Room Temperature?

Now, what about frozen raw chicken? How long can chicken sit out if it has been frozen first?

Unfortunately, there isn’t too much wriggle room here – the same rules apply. On average, you shouldn’t leave frozen chicken to sit out for longer than two hours at a time.

If the chicken has just been taken out of the freezer and is rock solid, then you may have a bit more time to work with. However, I wouldn’t suggest letting the chicken sit out for much longer than this due to the high risk of bacterial contamination.

Even when you defrost frozen chicken, you should be careful of how you do it. When thawing chicken, it is important to keep the temperature below 40°F during the process.

This is why you should let it thaw in the refrigerator or seal it and let it sit in a cold water bath until it is completely thawed. If you wish to speed up the process, switch out the cold water every 30 minutes.

You should also make sure that the thawed chicken is cooked immediately.

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How Long Can Cooked Chicken Sit Out For?

So far, all this talk has been around how long can raw chicken sit out. What if the chicken has been cooked, though? Is there a difference in how long raw and cooked chicken can be kept out?

No, there is no difference in how long cooked chicken can sit out for – it shouldn’t be kept out for more than an hour before it is stored in the refrigerator.

In fact, you don’t even have to wait for cooked meat to cool down before you refrigerate it. This is because most experts recommend rapidly cooling food. So, once the meat is lukewarm, feel free to pop it in the fridge. You can leave it uncovered until it is cooled down and then seal it.

How Long Can You Keep Fresh Chicken in the Fridge?

In case you are wondering how long you can store raw chicken in the refrigerator for, the answer is one to two days. Always keep raw chicken stored in a container so that its liquids don’t contaminate anything else in the fridge.

If you won’t be cooking the chicken within this time frame, it is best to move it to the freezer.

raw chicken legs in a dish

Cooked chicken, on the other hand can be kept up to four days at a time.

How Long Can Raw Chicken Stay in the Freezer?

If you are storing chicken pieces, then the chicken meat will be good for up to nine months at a time. A full uncooked chicken can be stored for up to a year.

Cooked chicken may be good for anywhere from 2 months to 6 months.

You should know that this time frame only works if the chicken has remained completely frozen the entire time. If there has been any power outage or if the chicken has been removed from the freezer for any period, then it may not be safe to eat.

Does Marinating the Chicken Improve Shelf Life?

There is some evidence that chicken marinated in soy sauce or red wine based marinades.

However, you should know that this was just a single study. Also, even if you were to marinate the chicken, I would advise you to do so in the fridge. This is especially important if you are planning on marinating the chicken overnight or for even longer.

Preparing Raw Chicken That Has Been Left Out

As I have already mentioned, you should only cook chicken that has been left out two hours or less. Even then, though, the meat must be prepared properly.

For chicken to be safe to consume, it has to be heated until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t presume that the chicken is cooked all the way through. Instead, use a thermometer to guarantee this. This is something that I do every time that I prepare chicken meat products. It is a good habit to get into as it drastically cuts down on the risk of food poisoning.

Not to mention, you can guarantee that your raw chicken is cooked to perfection each and every time.

What are the Signs of Spoiled Chicken?

Now that you have answered the question, how long can raw chicken sit out for, it is time to learn about how to identify rotten chicken.

Lets face it, every one is guilty of storing chicken improperly or for leaving raw poultry out for longer than you are supposed to. Thus, it is important to know if spoilage has set in during this period.

Here are some signs of spoiled meat:

The Color

Fresh, raw chicken looks pink. The longer that it is left out in a warmer environment, though, it will begin to look dull and grey. If you see a greyish hue to the meat, then it is best to toss it.

The Odor

Now, before you take a sniff of the meat, it is important to remember that raw chicken has its own smell. However, the chicken isn’t meant to smell sour, unpleasant, or foul. If it smells off, then it has probably gone bad.

The Texture

Last, but not least, touch the chicken. In general, chicken has a slippery feel to it. If it has been left out for too long, though, it will feel as though there is a thick and sticky layer over it.

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An Important Note

You should be aware that rotten chicken may not always seem this way. You may not be able to see, smell, or feel anything off. However, if the meat has been left out for more than two hours, I would advise you to discard it.

It is a bad idea to cook it and eat it and is simply not worth the risk.

Here is the ultimate lowdown on how long chicken can sit out and still be safely consumed. As you can see, the rules are pretty strict. However, if I were you – I would abide them – it is just better for everyone involved!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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