If the chicken has been thawed in the fridge, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to two days after it has been thawed. If you thaw it in cold water or the microwave, the chicken should be cooked immediately. This rule applies to whole chickens as well as individual cuts like chicken breasts and thighs.
As a chef, food safety is a big part of my job - one that I take very seriously. Food safety is so important, gang - no one wants to prepare their friends or family a meal and accidentally get them sick. I sure don’t! Follow the best practices I lay out in this guide, and you’ll drastically reduce the chances you’ll serve chicken that can cause food poisoning.
In this post, I will outline how long thawed chicken can stay in the fridge and give you some pointers on storing it as well. Let's get started!
According to the USDA, once you thaw frozen chicken in the refrigerator, you can store it in the refrigerator for an additional two days. For the best taste and texture, though, it is best to cook the thawed chicken within a day.
Remember that this rule only applies if the chicken is refrigerated at temperatures under 40°F. If the chicken has been left out at room temperature for any period, or if you have experienced any power loss, then the chicken will go bad far more quickly.
My magic eight ball is saying, “My reply is no.” I certainly wouldn’t eat it. The raw chicken may not have spoiled just yet, but it isn't necessarily safe to eat, either. You will likely find that flavor and texture have been compromised if you cook it.
If you think raw chicken stays good in the fridge longer than thawed chicken, I’m here to clue you in on something: it doesn’t.
It doesn't matter if it is defrosted chicken or if it is fresh - you shouldn't keep chicken in the refrigerator for longer than two days at a time.
On average, cooked chicken lasts a bit longer than raw chicken - about three to four days. If you have already cooked your chicken, you’ve got a little bit more leeway.
That said, I suggest eating cooked chicken within a day or two. It will taste much better the sooner you eat it.
Please note, the 3-4 day range depends on how soon after preparation the chicken was placed in the refrigerator. If the chicken was left out for hours, it will likely spoil sooner.
A good rule is to keep it tightly wrapped in plastic or in a plastic baggie with as much air removed as possible. Always be careful when handling chicken that has been thawed - wash your hands after touching raw chicken.
Your other option is to place the chicken in an airtight container. This will prevent the juices from getting into other spots in your fridge, which risks cross-contaminating other foods. It will also ensure that other odors in the fridge don't permeate into the chicken.
Chef hack: I always like to mark down the date that I placed the chicken in the fridge on its wrapping or container. This lets me know how long I have before I need to get cooking.
Yes, you can! If you have let the chicken defrost only to find that you will not be able to cook it within the two-day timeline, it is best to place it back in the freezer.
It can stay here for several months, but I would recommend cooking it sooner rather than later. During the thawing process, some of the taste and texture may have been compromised. That’s why it is best to cook the chicken as soon as possible.
Once you defrost the chicken for the second time, cook it immediately.
Yes, the method that you use to defrost frozen chicken can determine how long the chicken can be kept safely in the fridge.
Understand - the safest way to thaw chicken is with refrigerator thawing. This is where you move the frozen meat from the freezer to the fridge. As the frozen chicken isn't exposed to any microbes and is kept at a proper temperature throughout, you can thaw the chicken safely.
As a result, you are able to let the thawed chicken stay in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't like this method as it can take a lot longer to defrost chicken this way.
One other option is to thaw the chicken by submerging it in cold water. This speeds up the process but ensures that the overall temperature of the chicken remains at a safe temperature.
For this process, I use my sink with a stopper. You could also place the whole chicken in a bowl or pan. Make sure that the packaging on the chicken remains in place. Then, fill the container with cold tap water. Make sure that the frozen chicken is completely submerged in water and that no water gets inside the packaging.
Empty out the water and refill it with cold water every half an hour or so. This helps keep the water below 40°F. The cold water method will defrost a pound of meat every 30-60 minutes.
Under no circumstances should you use hot water to speed up the process. This will cause the temperature to creep into what is known as “the danger zone.” (Great, now I’ve got the Kenny Loggins song stuck in my head.) The danger zone is a range of temperatures between 41°F and 135°F.
At this range, bacteria can multiply rapidly, increasing the risk of food poisoning.
This is why you should also not let the chicken defrost on the counter at room temperature. The risk of spoilage is too high. Whole chickens shouldn't be left out for longer than an hour at a time, at most.
If you thaw frozen chicken in the microwave, you’ll need to cook it immediately. While this is a quick method, it causes the chicken to heat up, placing it in the danger zone.
I generally advise people against defrosting chicken in the microwave as it is tricky to ensure that it is fully thawed. Usually, you are left with hot and cold spots due to uneven heating. You may also end up with cooked chicken in certain portions.
Don’t defrost a whole chicken in the microwave. The microwave is for cuts of chicken only.
I know that despite my advice that a lot of people are going to try and keep thawed or raw chicken in the fridge for longer than two days.
Well, if you are planning on doing this, I would ask you to inspect the chicken before cooking it.
The first sign of spoilage is a slimy texture. Spoiled chicken will be slimier than regular, fully thawed chicken.
Check for discoloration. The meat may also appear grey or brown. If you notice discoloration, or any green spots or patches, then toss it immediately.
The other sign to be mindful of is the odor. You may notice a rancid smell or the meat may simply smell gamey. That chicken should have a date with the garbage can. It’s not safe to eat.
If you do notice any of these signs, cooking the chicken will not reverse spoilage. There are many spores that are heat resistant, so you can still get sick from eating cooked chicken that was spoiled.
Once you have taken the thawed chicken out of the fridge, it is best to cook it as soon as possible. If you will not be cooking it right away, it is best to place it back in the refrigerator until you are ready.
Now, there are some recipes that tell you to wait until the chicken is near room temperature before cooking it. This is so that the chicken cooks faster and more evenly. I would advise against leaving the chicken out on the countertop for longer than an 30 minutes.
Make sure that it is completely covered while out.
When cooking, grilling, or roasting the chicken, check that the internal temperature reaches 165°F before removing it from the heat. This will guarantee that the chicken is cooked all the way through.
There you have it - your answer (and more!) to “how long can thawed chicken stay in the fridge?” To reduce the risk of food poisoning, make sure to follow all the guidelines outlined here.
They can seem tiresome, but in this instance, it is far better to be safe than sorry!