How long can cooked chicken sit out?

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Last Updated on: 23rd October 2022, 02:13 am

Chicken is the most versatile meat type which can be used in hundreds of recipes.

In addition to being used in various recipes, it is also inexpensive,which makes it a go-to choice for cooking.

However, you should keep in mind how long cooked chicken sits out to be on the safe side when cooking it.

According to the USDA, chicken, whether it’s cooked or raw, can sit out at room temperature for as long as two hours.

After two hours, it will be unsafe for eating and you should discard it.

But if the chicken is left out at 90°F, it can only sit out for one hour.

Some people like to check the quality of cooked chicken by smelling or analyzing its appearance, but the reality is that the cooked chicken will not go bad after 2 hours.

Rather, it will have millions of pathogenic microorganisms lurking all over it, which can cause various disorders.

These microorganisms are mainly bacteria, which include e. coli, salmonella and various other species.

These bacteria can grow at room temperature and their growth is in an exponential pattern.

Due to which, they grow and spoil the chicken quickly.

How long can cooked chicken sit out at different temperatures?

Cooked chicken can sit out for different times depending on its environment.

The most important factor in the environment that affects the quality of chicken is the temperature at which it is left.

Here are the most common temperatures and their times.

Chicken left at room temperature

It is the most common mistake that people make when handling chicken.

Some people leave the chicken on the counter while purchasing other things from the grocery shop, while others forget to store the chicken properly and leave it overnight.

The room temperature falls within the danger zone of storing.

In other words, the room temperature is usually set at a temperature of 70 °F, which is between the range of 40 °F-140 °F, which is known as the danger zone of storing chicken.

According to the USDA, chicken can be left at room temperature for no more than 2 hours.

If the chicken was left out for more than two hours, then it would be of no use.

You should consider discarding it to keep yourself at the safe end.

Chicken left at 90°F

Another temperature at which chicken is usually stored is 90°F.

Some people consider that it is a bit warmer than the room temperature, so you might think it might slow the bacterial growth, but the reality is the opposite.

Bacteria grow faster at 90°F than at room temperature.

The reason is that 90 °F is a favorable temperature for the growth of bacteria, which leads to the bacteria’s growing at a faster rate than at room temperature.

So, if you leave your chicken out at 90 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour, it will go bad.

According to the USDA, chicken that is left out at 90°F should only be used within an hour.

If the chicken was left at 90°F for more than an hour, you should consider discarding it yourself at the end of its life.

Bacterial growth is 4-5 times higher at 90°F than at room temperature.

Chicken left in danger zone (40-140°F)

The temperature range between 40 and 140°F is called the danger zone for the storage of chicken.

The reason is that it is a favorable range for the growth of bacteria, so bacteria can grow at a faster rate and spoil the chicken quickly.

If you are going to store the temperature at this range , then you should keep in mind that it is often advised to even smoke the chicken at this temperature because bacteria can grow rapidly at this temperature.

Then if you just let the fried chicken sit at this temperature, then the situation will be even worse.

Bacteria normally replicate every 20 minutes, but when placed in the danger zone, replication is 4-5 times faster.

So we can say that the bacteria will replicate within 4-5 minutes if the chicken is left in a danger zone.

Keeping in mind the rate of multiplication of bacteria in the danger zone, we would advise you to not store chicken in the danger zone at all.

If you ever do it by mistake, then you should use it within 30 minutes to 1 hour.

If more time has passed, then the only thing you can do is to discard it.

Chicken left at below 40°F

If the chicken is left at a temperature below 40°F, then it will be safe to eat it even after 3 days to several months depending on the temperature.

The rate of the growth of bacteria is slowed down at this temperature, and chicken can retain its quality for a longer time.

The temperature below 40°F falls into two categories.

The first one is the temperature difference between the range of 32–40°F (0–4°C) which is also known as refrigeration.

The second range is below 32°F (0°C), which is also known as freezing.

Refrigeration is a really effective way of storing chicken if you want to use it after sometime.

Thawed chicken can be left to be stored in the fridge for 3–4 days without going bad.

If you want to store your chicken for an even longer time, then consider freezing it.

Freezing is really helpful in storing chicken for prolonged periods. You can store chicken in the freezer for 3–4 months.

Some people even use it for up to 9 months, but we would recommend you use it within 3–4 months because longer storage can result in freezer burns.

How long can cooked chicken sit out? Things to consider

As discussed above, leaving the chicken out for more than 2 hours results in the growth of bacteria.

But the growth or rate of multiplication of bacteria can be different from chicken to chicken due to various factors.

As a result of their environmental conditions, some chicken may become hazardous to health even before 2 hours.

According to the USDA , chicken should be left to sit out for no more than two hours.

If the chicken has been left at room temperature for more than two hours, then you should discard it to keep yourself at your wit’s end.

Additionally, if the temperature is above 90°F , then chicken is only good for 1 hour.

After that, you should avoid cooking it.

Rather, while discarding it, you will have to be careful to avoid contamination.

If you come into direct contact with such a chicken, then consider washing your hands with a disinfectant.

There are various factors that can contribute to the growth of bacteria on the surface of chicken.

The most common of them are temperature, time, hygiene, freshness, and airflow.

We are going to explain all of them in detail to let you know how they affect the quality of chicken.


Temperature is the most crucial factor in the determination of whether the chicken has gone bad after 2 hours or not.

The multiplication of bacteria is highly sensitive to the temperature of the environment, and the rate of multiplication varies depending on temperature.

As a general rule, chicken can go bad after 2 hours if it is placed at room temperature.

But if the temperature is between 40-140°F , then it can increase the rate of growth of bacteria by 4 to 5 times.

This range is usually known as the danger zone .

It is a myth that bacteria only grow faster at warm temperatures.

The reality is that it depends on the properties of food.

If the food is used cold, then it should be placed at a temperature of below 40°F to avoid bacterial growth.

If you’re using a food that’s typically served warm, raising the temperature above 140°F can also stop the growth of bacteria.

The main point is to stay out of the danger zone, i.e.40-140°F temperature range to slow down the bacterial growth.

The range between 40 and 140°F provides the bacteria with favorable conditions to grow.

due to which their rate of multiplication increases by 4-5 times.

These can lead to the early contamination of the chicken if left to sit out.

So, if two chicken chunks are left out at the same time, one at room temperature and the other at a temperature below 40 °F or above 140 °F, the latter will have less bacteria contamination while the former will be more infected due to the favorable temperature.


It’s a no-brainer that if we are measuring the quality of chicken in terms of time, then time is also an important factor.

Time is important because the growth of bacteria keeps increasing over time , so the more time passes, the more pathogens will be contained.

Time is really important for determining the growth of bacteria because bacteria grow exponentially rather than linearly.

To put it in simple words , they don’t grow in the pattern of 1-2-3-4, rather they grow in a pattern of 1-2-4-8.

So the more time passes, the more bacterial multiplication will occur.

So the growth of bacteria skyrockets after sometime due to an increase in the number of organisms.

If the growth keeps increasing in this way then chicken can even starting spoiling after sometime.

Usually, bacteria multiply every 20 minutes and produce more pathogens.

So if only ten bacteria were present on the surface of the chicken at the start, they could grow to around 2000 bacteria after 2 hours due to exponential growth .

By keeping in mind this growth pattern, you can estimate the number of bacteria present on your chicken if it’s left outside for more than 2 hours.

It is better to be safe than sorry. You should discard the chicken. If it has been left outside at room temperature,


Hygiene is also another determinant of the growth rate of bacteria.

If the chicken is left out on a clean surface without any contamination, then the growth rate of bacteria will be slower because there will be no addition of bacteria from the external environment.

Similar to the growth of bacteria on chicken, bacteria can also grow exponentially in the surrounding environment, like a kitchen or stovetop.

If these are not cleaned properly, then it will result in an increased growth of bacteria on the chicken.

Cleaning the environment will not only slow down the growth of bacteria present in the chicken, but it will help to avoid any contamination from the external environment.

If the environment is not clean, then the chicken can go bad rapidly.

The bacteria will be way higher in contaminated soil.

You can estimate the numbers of bacteria in an environment by the fact that a rotten apple will contain several thousand to millions of pathogens.

If it is placed adjacent to chicken, then it can go bad immediately.

You should keep in mind that contamination is not always visible.

If you have washed chicken in a sink, then it will also be contaminated.

You should consider cleaning the surfaces and utensils that come in contact with chicken with a disinfectant.


When determining when chicken will go bad if left out, you should also take into account the freshness of chicken.

If a chicken chunk has been bought from a butcher shop that was stale, then it will go bad rapidly.

The 2 hours rule applies to chicken that is fresh.

If you have no other option than to buy a chicken that is already placed on the counter of a butcher, then you should consider not buying chicken at all because the chicken might have gone bad by now.

Butchers and restaurant owners typically avoid leaving chicken out at room temperature for extended periods of time because health inspectors inspect their quality on a regular basis.

They usually place the chicken in the refrigerator when not cooking it.

If a health inspector comes to a restaurant to check the food quality, then its first concern will be the chicken sitting out on the counter.

But he is not going to fine someone for placing chicken on a counter, but rather he will insert the probe of an instant read thermometer into it.

The instant-read thermometer will measure the internal temperature of the chicken and display it on its screen.

The health inspector will have no issues with placing the chicken on the counter if the counter is clean and the internal temperature of the chicken is either below 40°F or above 140°F.


Airflow is also an important determinant of the growth rate of bacteria.

Some bacteria are known as aerobic bacteria; these require oxygen for growth.

Due to airflow,the rate of multiplication of aerobic bacteria is increased.

Moreover, the air can also contain several pathogenic microorganisms within it, which can contaminate the chicken.

You should consider sealing chicken in an airtight jar whether you are placing it outside or within a refrigerator to decrease contamination.

Does sealing chicken help it last longer?

It is a common myth that sealing chicken helps in preserving chicken for a longer time because bacteria can’t contaminate the chicken when it’s sealed.

As a general rule, sealing has no effect on the growth of bacteria on chicken.

Sealing can be effective in protecting the chicken from external pathogens,but it can’t halt the growth of internal pathogens.

For example, if chicken is placed in an unhygienic area , sealing can prevent the pathogens lt the growth of internal pathogens.

For example, if chicken is placed in an unhygienic area, sealing can prevent the pathogens in the environment from contaminating the chicken but can’t stop the growth of bacteria present on the chicken surface.

These bacteria are naturally present on the surface of chicken but start multiplying when it is left to sit at room temperature.

Sealing can’t stop the growth of these bacteria, and chicken will still be unsafe to eat after 2 hours.

Final Verdict

Chicken can sit out for 2 hours at room temperature, but after two hours it will have several species of pathogenic microorganisms which make it unsafe for eating.

If the chicken is left out at 90°F , then the chicken will be safe for only 1 hour.

If you intend to store chicken for a longer time, then you should consider storing it properly.

There are various methods for storing chicken, among which freezing and refrigeration are easy to do and can store chicken for several months without going bad.

Jakob miller
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